Rejoinder to recent arguments…
The Limits to Invoking “Papal Lapses” as a Justification for the Recognize-and-Resist Position:
A Response to Dr. Peter Kwasniewski
by Francis del Sarto
“Lessons from Church History: A Brief Review of Papal Lapses” is an article by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski that was published on August 6, 2018, by the OnePeterFive website. An editor’s note informs the reader that it is an update of an article that first appeared in October 2015. The author is identified as “a Thomistic theologian, liturgical scholar, and choral composer…”, who has taught at Novus Ordo colleges in Austria and the United States, written six books, and is a regular contributor on “Catholic blogs”.
In the article Dr. Kwasniewski sets out to disabuse some of his coreligionists of what he refers to as “a papalism that blinds Catholics to the reality that popes are peccable and fallible human beings like the rest of us, and that their pronouncements are guaranteed to be free from error only under strictly delimited conditions.”
Elsewhere, near the end of the article, he elaborates:
I define “papalism” or its more extreme version “papolatry” as follows. If the Faith is seen more as “what the reigning pope is saying” (simply speaking) than “what the Church has always taught” (taken collectively), we are dealing with a false exaltation of the person and office of the pope.”
Before moving into the main part of the article, it’s necessary to correct a bit of terminology he is using here. When he uses papalism, the context suggests that what he really means is “papolatry”, that is an excessive veneration or reverence for a pontiff or perhaps for the papacy in general. According to the Oxford Dictionary site, the first use of papolatry was in the British journal The Contemporary Review in the late 19th century. Given the date, it is reasonable to conclude that the term was coined as a reaction to two doctrines — papal primacy and infallibility — which had been dogmatically defined at the First Vatican Council in 1870 but were viewed by some non-Catholics with hostility. Papolatry can never be used as a neutral term, although some contemporary Catholic or “Catholic” writers have used it in the toned-down and imprecise sense of “the pope can do no wrong” or a “defend the Vatican at all costs” mentality. Perhaps the author preferred using papalism over papolatry — literally, “pope worship” — due to the explicitly pejorative anti-Catholic roots of the latter, yet it is the more accurate of the two contextually.
Papalism and its variant, papism, also derive from sources hostile to the Faith, but they don’t convey adherents necessarily indulging in a belief that smacks of idolatry. Papism, the older term dating back to the 16th century, is simply a snide way of referring to Roman Catholicism, ridiculing the authority of a pope. Papalism (mid-19th century), by contrast, has that meaning too but can also refer to the teaching that the supreme Catholic authority resides in the Roman pontiff — as opposed to Conciliarism, which located that power in ecumenical councils rather than the pope alone. Since Vatican I’s dogmatic definitions concerning papal primacy in 1870 (further codified in the 1917 Code of Canon Law, canons 218-221), Conciliarism now constitutes heresy.
As an aside, it’s worth mentioning that earlier in the year Novus Ordo Watch felt compelled to report on how sedevacantists were among those being labelled as papolators:
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).
(“The Ultramontanism Objection”, Novus Ordo Wire, Jan. 18, 2018)
But what makes this quite unusual to say the least is that Sedevacantism is far more often attacked as being “heretical” or “schismatic” for allegedly going against Catholic teaching on the papacy, because it is a position that unwaveringly challenges the contention that the conciliar “popes” have any valid claim to the office. Surely, sedevacantists hold the unique distinction of being attacked for being too papal and too anti-papal at the same time. Both claims are false, of course, for the viewpoint stating that the Holy See is currently unoccupied by a valid pope is precisely in line with the teachings of the Church and the best of her theologians. Such is the strange period of Church history in which we live that such ludicrous and mutually self-contradictory accusations are taken seriously by anyone.
“Pope Francis, pray for us”
Whatever one chooses to call it, there is no question that an idolatrous cult of personality exists among some followers of “Pope” Francis (as is evident in the delusional invocation serving as the heading of this section). This is quite remarkable given his complete lack of any semblance to being a legitimate possessor of the office, save for the mere physical occupancy of the Vatican and the wearing of the papal apparel. Dr. Kwasniewski identifies this peculiar phenomenon as prevalent with certain “conservative Catholics”, which is true enough, but, as will be seen, also applies to some who espouse an openly Modernist position.
Novus Ordo “papalism” takes various forms. In October 2014, Michael Voris of Church Militant issued a mea maxima culpa, not for criticizing Bergoglio, but merely for having reported that “Cardinal” Raymond Burke had expressed the view that “the Pope, not speaking out openly about the crazy ideas floating around the Synod, was harming the Church”. (But wait! It turns out that Francis was himself the author of those crazy ideas about how it was sometimes okay for those in unrepentant public adultery to receive the sacraments. But you knew that, right, Michael?)
Mr. Voris then proceeded to engage in the most obsequious hand-wringing imaginable, telling viewers how he felt so guilty that he wouldn’t go to “Communion”, but rather felt obliged to visit the confessional, due to what unintentionally might have come off as a critique of the “Holy Father”. He further distanced himself by attacking those who would dare suggest that Bergoglio was a heretic or an antipope. It was quite an embarrassing display, but the Michael Voris of mid-summer 2018 was singing a different song after the bombshell accusations that Francis covered up sex abuse (see the Church Militant video of a panel discussion, entitled “Pope Francis Must Resign: ‘A Conspiracy of Silence”). It’s worth noting that the call for Francis’s resignation, no matter how legitimate it is at one level, also has the unfortunate effect of obfuscating the bigger picture of the falsity of the Novus Ordo Sect’s claim to being the Catholic Church (it’s as though there’s the implication that once they root out all the perverts and their enablers, everything will be Catholic again in the parishes).
If Voris was engaging in a negative version by seeking to omit even the slightest criticism of Francis, other versions are exercises in positive “Pope”-worship. A couple of examples come from last year. On the Rorate Caeli site, a contributor with the nom de plume “Confitebor” relates a visit he and his wife made to a religious goods store. They came to be looking at some
pewter crosses, each of them featuring a different saint or archangel. But we were soon horrified to find that one of the pewter crosses at the store had neither a heavenly saint nor an angel… surrounding the image of Pope Francis is this inscription: “Pope Francis, pray for us.”
(Confitebor, “‘Papalotry’ is real”, Rorate Caeli, Apr. 4, 2017; bold print given.)
And a Vox Cantoris column begins:
I’ve used the term “papolatry,” as have others, to describe the almost idolatrous nature of the treatment of the current Bishop of Rome and his sycophants promotion of his every word and breath being from his “god of surprises.” We see it in the case of priests on Twitter, the Vatican’s own press (more on that tomorrow), and people such as Austin Ivereigh, parroting every word of Bergoglio’s as if it was the new divine revelation and we are too stupid to get with the party.
(“Moving beyond the term “papolatry” to the realisation of the subversive element”, Vox Cantoris, July 23, 2017)
But trumping these examples for its sheer audacity has to be the recent glorification of Bergoglio’s willfully defiant departure from Sacred Tradition:
A Vatican consultant who leads the Canadian Catholic media organization Salt and Light Television has issued a statement publicly recognizing and defending that Pope Francis “breaks Catholic traditions whenever he wants” and that he rules by his own personal authority, rather than the authority of the Scripture and tradition of the Catholic Church.
According to Salt and Light CEO Fr. Thomas Rosica, “Pope Francis breaks Catholic traditions whenever he wants because he is ‘free from disordered attachments.’”
“Our Church has indeed entered a new phase,” writes Rosica. “With the advent of this first Jesuit pope, it is openly ruled by an individual rather than by the authority of Scripture alone or even its own dictates of tradition plus Scripture.”
According to Rosica, Pope Francis has a “commitment to a ‘conversion’ of the papacy as well as the entire church.”
“It’s hard to predict what will come next,” writes Rosica, who calls Francis “shrewd” and imbued with the trait of “holy cunning.”
“The pope’s openness, however, also a signature of his Jesuit training and development, means that not even he is sure where the spirit will lead,” writes Rosica. “He has said: ‘I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even have all the questions. I always think of new questions, and there are always new questions coming forward.’”
(Matthew Cullinan Hoffman, “‘Pope Francis breaks Catholic traditions whenever he wants’: Vatican advisor Fr. Rosica”, Life Site, Aug. 14, 2018)
“The Faith is entrusted to the popes, as it is to the bishops, but it is not subject to their control”, Kwasniewski correctly writes, yet tell that to “Fr.” Rosica, who is taking “papalism” into a brave new bizarro world where freewheeling Francis can — and should — apostatize to his Modernist heart’s content. It’s a Luciferian inversion of everything for which the papacy stands, all done in accordance with the whims of a non-Catholic “dictator pope”.
Dr. Peter Kwasniewski (image by Allison Girone)
Confronting Categorical Confusion
So, what Dr. Kwasniewski decries as a blindness among Catholics, manifests itself in many a peculiar way indeed. He then sets forth the manner of demonstrating to them what he sees as the proper understanding of Roman pontiffs:
At a time when Catholics are confused about whether and how a pope can go wrong, it seems useful to compile examples in three categories: (1) times when the popes were guilty of grave personal immorality; (2) times when popes connived at or with heresy, or were guilty of a harmful silence or ambiguity in regard to heresy; (3) times when popes taught (albeit not ex cathedra) something heretical, savoring of heresy, or harmful to the faithful.
Not everyone may agree that every item listed is, in fact, a full-blooded example of the category in question, but that is beside the point; the fact that there are a number of problematic instances is sufficient to show that popes are not automatic oracles of God who hand down only what is good, right, holy, and laudable. If that last statement seems like a caricature, one need only look at how conservative Catholics today are bending over backward to get lemonade out of every lemon offered by Pope Francis and denying with vehemence that Roman lemons could ever be rotten or poisonous.
(Peter Kwasniewski, “Lessons from Church History: A Brief Review of Papal Lapses”, One Peter Five, Aug. 6, 2018; italics given.)
Before examining the examples he has compiled, it bears repeating that the three groupings he enumerates constitute ecclesial apples and oranges (along with Francis’s seemingly endless supply of lemons). While disputation in Kwasniewski’s article is strictly focused on refuting “a nervous tendency toward hero-worship, looking here and there for the Great Leader who will rescue us”, his failure to adequately delineate the groupings detracts from the overall value of his treatise.
This failure will be conspicuous to readers familiar with a fundamental contention of the recognize-and-resist (R&R) position, namely the idea that along with pontiffs guilty of personal immorality in matters not concerning the Faith, popes can, in theory, teach — and, in actuality, have taught — heresy, without at once losing the papal office. Dr. Kwasniewski, anticipating adverse reaction, attempts to preempt it by observing:
I can hear an objection from some readers: “If a pope can go off the rails and stop teaching the orthodox Faith, then what’s the point of having a papacy? Isn’t the whole reason we have the vicar of Christ to enable us to know for certain the truth of the Faith?” The answer is that the Catholic Faith preexists the popes, even though they occupy a special place vis-à-vis its defense and articulation. This Faith can be known with certainty by the faithful through a host of means – including, one might add, five centuries’ worth of traditional catechisms from all over the world that concur in their teaching. The pope is not able to say, like an absolute monarch: La foi, c’est moi.
This may sound convincing at first, but it is not quite true; it depends on what precisely the author means here. It is certainly clear that the pope does not determine the content of Divine Revelation — such an idea would be absurd. However, neither is it correct to say, as Dr. Kwasniewski seems to suggest here, that the pope is little more than a fancily-clad presider over the Deposit of Faith who is to be followed when he gets it right and resisted when he doesn’t. That is the Protestant conception of a pastor.
The pope has genuine teaching authority. That means he has the right and ability to bind his subjects to what he teaches because he teaches it. We will come back to this important point later. For now, we’re only going to recall how Pope Pius IX reacted when Cardinal Filippo Guidi of Bologna gave a speech on the council floor arguing
that the pope depends on the bishops not on the level of authority, but on the level of witness “in order to learn from them what the faith of the entire Church is and what traditions exist in the various individual Churches regarding the truth in question.” The canons [to be included in the document being discussed] should not only reject the opinion that denies the infallibility of definitive teachings of the pope, but also the opinion that “the pope acts arbitrarily and of his own accord as independent of the Church, that is, separate from it, and not on the advice of the bishops who present the tradition of the Churches.”
(Klaus Schatz, Papal Primacy: From its Origins to the Present [Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1996], p. 160; italics given.)
The reaction of the Holy Father is one for the history books:
Pius IX was furious. That very afternoon he summoned Guidi to his apartment….
In reaction to Guidi’s insistence that before issuing a definition the pope had to investigate the tradition of the church, Pius broke out with the famous words, ‘I, I am tradition! I, I am the church’ (Io, io sono la tradizione! Io, io sono la chiesa!).”
(John W. O’Malley, Vatican I: The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church [Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2018], p. 212; italics given.)
This amusing anecdote is also recounted, in essence, in sundry other historical works on Vatican I (for example, see Dom Cuthbert Butler, The Vatican Council 1869-1870 [Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1962], pp. 353-355, or Thomas Albert Howard, The Pope and the Professor [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017], p. 150).
I am Tradition! I am the Church! These words of Pope Pius IX sum up Catholic teaching on the Papacy: By virtue of his office alone, the Pope carries within himself all of Sacred Tradition and all ecclesiastical authority. He is not merely a nice chap at the top of the hierarchy who gets to affirm what everyone under him already knows. Catholic doctrine flows from the head down to the members, not vice versa. Thus, even if all the bishops of the world were to die at the same time, the Pope would still possess Sacred Tradition whole and inviolate. If there is one man in whom the Church exists as a whole, with all the authority that belongs to it by divine institution, it is the Pope.
Some have disputed that Pius IX really said these words, “I am Tradition” (some accounts leave out “I am the Church”). Although we cannot affirm with complete certainty that he did, the preponderance of the evidence does indicate it. In vol. 3 of his German-language work Vaticanum I: 1869-1870 (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 1994), the Novus Ordo church historian Klaus Schatz devotes an entire appendix to the question (pp. 312-322) and comes to the conclusion that it can be considered historically certain that Pius IX spoke these words, if not verbatim, at least words conveying that same meaning.
Thus we may surmise that Pope Pius would have been none too amused at Dr. Kwasniewski’s contention that popes merely “occupy a special place vis-à-vis [the] defense and articulation” of the Faith. Certainly, Kwasniewski is correct in saying that a pope is not in the position of an absolute monarch who can ride roughshod over the Deposit of Faith; he is, rather, its servant. However, this is not a contradiction, for it is precisely through the exercise of the papacy that the proper “defense and articulation” of the Magisterium is guaranteed:
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.
(Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 4)
Recognize-and-resisters like Dr. Kwasniewski misunderstand what Vatican I is teaching here. They think that the council merely established a norm, a rule of conduct, to which the pope is bound such that, should he fail to live up to it, he can or must be resisted. Under this view — we may call it the normative view — the pope is no different in essence from a Protestant pastor, who is capable of teach anything he likes, but when he goes off the rails, then the congregations is called to resist and rebuke him because the Bible pre-exists the pastor.
But this is not at all what the council means. Rather, Vatican I teaches that the Holy Spirit was promised to the popes, not so that they would not be supposed to teach new doctrines but so that they actually would not do so. The council’s teaching is thus not normative, merely establishing a norm for the pope to follow, but descriptive, describing a truth about the Papacy: The pope actually does not make up some new doctrine. This interpretation is not only demanded by the immediate context of Pastor Aeternus, it is also corroborated by Pope St. Pius X, who condemned as a Modernist error the idea that “[t]he dogmas of the Faith are to be held only … as preceptive norms of conduct and not as norms of believing” (Decree Lamentabili Sane Exitu, error n. 26).
Kwasniewski has failed to refute the objection he had set out to answer: “If a pope can go off the rails and stop teaching the orthodox Faith, then what’s the point of having a papacy? Isn’t the whole reason we have the vicar of Christ to enable us to know for certain the truth of the Faith?” With Pope Pius IX we can confidently affirm:
Indeed one simple way to keep men professing Catholic truth is to maintain their communion with and obedience to the Roman Pontiff. For it is impossible for a man ever to reject any portion of the Catholic faith without abandoning the authority of the Roman Church. In this authority, the unalterable teaching office of this faith lives on. It was set up by the divine Redeemer and, consequently, the tradition from the Apostles has always been preserved. So it has been a common characteristic both of the ancient heretics and of the more recent Protestants — whose disunity in all their other tenets is so great — to attack the authority of the Apostolic See. But never at any time were they able by any artifice or exertion to make this See tolerate even a single one of their errors.
(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Nostis et Nobiscum, n. 17)
With whom shall we side? With Peter Kwasniewski or Pope Pius IX?
A Laundry List of Dubious Popes, Not So Dubious Popes, and Non-Popes
At the center of Kwasniewski’s article we find the three classifications of “papal lapses”, beginning with “Popes Guilty of Grave Personal Immorality”. Listed are eleven morally bankrupt, thoroughly unworthy pontiffs, among them the most notorious, such as Popes John XII and Alexander VI (although, to be fair, some hold that Alexander VI was the victim of calumny). The author rightly describes them as constituting a papal hall of shame.
Since these papal malefactors are being lumped in with those who were said to have not stood up against heresy or actually taught heresy, it is worth looking at part of an earlier Novus Ordo Watch article entitled “The ‘Bad Popes’ Argument”:
A very common objection one hears when discussing Sedevacantism with those unfortunate souls who still believe Jorge Bergoglio (“Francis”) is the Pope of the Catholic Church, is, “But there have always been bad Popes!” They are either not familiar with, or incapable of grasping, the difference between, on the one hand, Catholics who lead immoral lives, and, on the other hand, heretics.
Francis isn’t a bad Catholic. He’s a Non-Catholic. That’s the crux. Therefore, saying that we’ve had bad Popes in the past and they were still valid Popes, is totally beside the point. A man who professes the Catholic Faith whole and entire, no matter how wicked he may be, remains a member of the Catholic Church. Even if he hate God. Even if he be a murderer. Even if he be a sodomite.
God forbid, of course! Such a man, if he does not repent, will have an eternity of suffering in hell. His Church membership will have profited him nothing; his faith, entirely dead because without charity, will not save him in the least. His knowledge of the True Faith will merely add to his misery in hell because he will have sinned with full knowledge of the sinfulness of his deeds.
Yes, all this is true. But such a man, if elected to the papacy, would still be a valid Pope, because what keeps a man from being validly elected to the papacy is not a lack of holiness but the profession of heresy (among other things). In other words, what keeps him from being a valid Pope is not the commission of sins against morals (otherwise no one could be Pope, since we are all sinners), no matter how many or how grievous, but the commission of sins against Faith.
(“The ‘Bad Popes’ Argument”, Novus Ordo Wire, Mar. 4, 2014; italics given.)
The article goes on to note that this is “standard Catholic teaching and not controversial”, and cites Pope Pius XII, who wrote: “For not every sin, however grave it may be, is such as of its own nature to sever a man from the Body of the Church, as does schism or heresy or apostasy” (Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, nn. 22-23).
What’s problematic here is Dr. Kwasniewski’s contention that being a bad pope is simply one of three ways “how a pope can go wrong”, without the distinction that is clearly necessary if he is to faithfully follow the teaching expounded by Pius XII on the subject.
“Popes Who Connived at Heresy or Were Guilty of Harmful Silence or Ambiguity” is his second grouping, and it and the third one suffer from him in places being vague. Unlike the personally immoral pontiffs in his first list, where he spells out grave offenses (simony, adultery, and murder among the very worst mentioned), some of those in the latter two categories are more nebulous or inaccurate.
His first example for the second group is St. Peter himself, who is named because “he did shamefully compromise on the application of an article of faith, viz., the equality of Jewish and Gentile Christians and the abolition of the Jewish ceremonial law….” While it is true that St. Peter was imprudent in his conduct by favoring Jewish Christians over their Gentile counterparts — the incident famously recounted in Galatians 2 — it is unclear with which offense Kwasniewski is charging him — conniving at heresy, harmful silence, or ambiguity — as none of them really seems to apply. The first would be closest insofar as he refers to it as a compromise on the application of an article of faith.
However, suggesting that St. Peter in any way erred against the Faith is simply not true. In De Romano Pontifice (“On the Roman Pontiff”), St. Robert Bellarmine, the Doctor of the Church who is rightly held to be the greatest champion of the papacy, refuted forty supposed instances of popes who were either heretics or otherwise erred against the Faith, and the very first he discusses is the Prince of the Apostles. Here’s what he says:
…[W]hen St. Peter compelled the Gentiles to Judaize, this was not an error of preaching but of conduct, as Tertullian suggests in his work de Praescriptionibus adversus haereticos. St. Peter did not ratify by some decree that they must Judaize, rather, he formally taught the contrary in Acts XV. Nevertheless, when he was still in Antioch, he separated himself from the dinner table of the Gentiles lest he would give offense to those recently converted to the faith from the Jews and by his example compelled them to Judaize in a certain measure, even Barnabas. But we do not deny that Popes can offer the occasion of erring through their own bad example, rather, we deny that they can prescribe the whole Church to follow some error ex cathedra. Moreover, the examples and doctrines of the Pontiffs are not equally pernicious to the Church, seeing that the Lord instructed them, saying: “Do what they say, but do not do what they do.”
(St. Robert Bellarmine, On the Roman Pontiff, vol. 2, trans. by Ryan Grant [Mediatrix Press, 2016], Book IV, Ch. 8, pp. 175-176; italics given; underlining added.)
De Romano Pontifice should be on the required reading list for Dr. Kwasniewski and all proponents of the recognize-and-resist position to better grasp the mind of the Church on said matters (it is available in English translation by Fr. Kenneth Baker and by Mr. Ryan Grant). St. Robert enjoys the Church’s highest approbation, and De Romano Pontifice is regarded as the most definitive work ever written on the Holy See. In his decree declaring him a Doctor of the Church, Pope Pius XI said of Bellarmine:
But it is an outstanding achievement of St Robert, that the rights and privileges divinely bestowed upon the Supreme Pontiff, and those also which were not yet recognised by all the children of the Church at that time, such as the infallible magisterium of the Pontiff speaking ex cathedra, he both invincibly proved and most learnedly defended against his adversaries. Moreover he appeared even up to our times as a defender of the Roman Pontiff of such authority that the Fathers of the [First] Vatican Council employed his writings and opinions to the greatest possible extent.
(Pope Pius XI, Decree Providentissimus Deus, Sep. 17, 1931)
More evidence from authoritative sources that roundly refutes Dr. Kwasniewski’s contention that St. Peter erred in a matter of faith in his withdrawing from the table of the Gentiles can be found in the Novus Ordo Watch article, “The ‘St. Paul resisted St. Peter to his Face’ Objection”.
In Kwasniewski’s second category are also listed three other pontiffs from the Church’s first millennium: Popes Liberius (352-366), Vigilius (537-555), and Honorius I (625-638). Noting that Liberius spent two years in exile “for not subscribing to Arianism” and opining that his “story is complicated, but the essentials can be told simply enough”, Kwasniewski is curiously murky when it comes to presenting those supposedly simple essentials:
What compromise doctrinal formula he signed or even whether he signed it is unknown (St. Hilary of Poitiers asserted that he had), but it is surely not without significance that Liberius, the 36th pope, is the only one among 54 popes from St. Peter to St. Gelasius I who is not revered as a saint in the West. At least in those days, popes were not automatically canonized, especially if they messed up on the job and failed to be the outstanding shepherds they should have been.
(Kwasniewski, “A Brief Review of Papal Lapses”, One Peter Five, Aug. 6, 2018)
So, although it’s unclear what, if any, compromise formula was signed by Pope Liberius, he gets indicted based on the assertion that he had signed it, which purportedly came from a single contemporary observer, albeit a saintly one. Apparently Dr. Kwasniewski is content to rest his case on one witness and on Liberius’s dubious distinction of having been the first pope who is not regarded as a saint.
Yet, if we turn to a scholar who has done the sort of thorough research that should have gone into “Lessons from Church History: A Brief Review of Papal Lapses”, we find out not only that the quote alleged to have come from St. Hilary is a bogus one, and that this Doctor of the Church actually held Pope Liberius in high regard, but that the orthodoxy and even the holiness of that pope was widely held by many of the foremost Catholic writers of the period. In “The Alleged Fall of Pope Liberius, His Alleged Excommunication of St. Athanasius, and other Anti-Papal Libels”, a chapter extracted from the 2015 edition of Michael Davies — An Evaluation, author John S. Daly takes an exhaustive look at the allegations leveled at that pontiff and reveals that they are largely based on a one-sided and distorted regurgitation of persistent myths that for too long had gone unchallenged — perhaps because they were simply too convenient for the post-Vatican II period of Church history to be questioned or abandoned altogether.
In fact, several prominent ecclesiastical writers of the day attested to Pope Liberius’s orthodoxy:
St. Ambrose, one of the four great Latin Doctors of the Church, is a witness for the defence of Pope Liberius of obviously very great weight and value. He had known Pope Liberius personally and remembered him as an exceedingly holy man, and, far from making reference to any lapse from orthodoxy, refers to him as being “of holy memory” and “of very venerable memory.” (Migne: Patrologia Latina tom. XVI, coll. 219 et seq.)
(John Daly, “The Alleged Fall of Pope Liberius”)
Mr. Daly notes something that is conspicuous by its absence in R&R accounts of the pontiff, and that’s that “Pope Liberius is honoured as a saint in the ancient Latin Martyrology.” There are far too many proofs provided to cite them all here, so two more must suffice, but readers interested in examining the subject in detail are invited to visit the article linked above.
Pope St. Anastasius I, who reigned not long after Liberius, was a defender of his much-maligned predecessor:
Highly relevant to St. Hilary’s attitude to Liberius is the fact that Pope St. Anastasius I, writing in the year 400, placed Pope Liberius in the same category as St. Hilary among the three most valiant defenders of the Faith in the time of Arianism, adding that he (Liberius) “would have preferred to be crucified rather than blaspheme Christ with the Arians.”
And that leads straightaway to Dr. Kwasniewski’s appeal to St. Hilary, which Daly counters as follows:
St. Hilary, bishop of Poitiers, was another contemporary of Liberius who had known him and been united with him in defence of the true Faith against Arianism. He is sometimes claimed as a witness to the fall of Liberius, but the only passage from his undisputed works adduced by the opponents of Liberius to support their claim proves nothing of the kind, while, on the other hand, the writings attributed to him in which Liberius is stated to have fallen were patently not written by him. Hence it follows that St. Hilary is silent on the subject of any fall of Liberius and must therefore have known nothing of it, which makes him an important indirect witness in Liberius’s favour, for he would certainly have known of the event if it had had any foundation in fact.
A few of the more virulent opponents of Liberius have even dared to attribute to St. Hilary certain other fragments attacking Liberius which, in the style of their Latinity, sensibility of feeling, dignity of expression and charity are not only unworthy of any Catholic (let alone a saint and a Doctor of the Church!), but even of any pagan with any pretence to education or self-respect.
Moving on to the question of Pope Vigilius, four charges are leveled against him, but the first two pertain to how he attained to the papacy in what are held to be unscrupulous means. While that may be the case, what he did prior to his ascension to the Chair of Peter is outside the purview of the discussion, and, in any case, would be more applicable to the first list, that of personal immorality, than to conniving at heresy, harmful silence, or ambiguity.
However, the third and fourth charges are quite germane to the question at issue:
Third, he changed his position in the affair of the Three Chapters (writings that were condemned by the Eastern bishops for going too far in an anti-Monophysite direction). Vigilius at first refused to agree to the condemnation, but when the Second Council of Constantinople confirmed it, Vigilius was prevailed on by imperial pressure to ratify the conciliar decree. It seems that Vigilius recognized the condemnation of the Three Chapters as problematic because it was perceived in the West as undermining the doctrine of the Council of Chalcedon but nevertheless allowed himself to be cajoled into doing so. Fourth, his wavering on this question and his final decision were responsible for a schism that ensued in the West, since some of the bishops of Italy refused to accept the decree of Constantinople. Their schism against both Rome and the East was to last for many years.
(Kwasniewski, “A Brief Review of Papal Lapses”, One Peter Five, Aug. 6, 2018)
Now, the fourth charge can only be laid at his doorstep if there is culpability on his part for the third, and that is hardly the case. In Christ’s Church, volume II of his Dogmatic Theology series, Monsignor Gerard van Noort, relying on the evidence produced by some of the Church’s leading historians, gives this overview of the Three Chapters affair, during which Vigilius’s acts were “open to misinterpretation”, but he “definitely made no error in matters of faith”:
3. Pope Vigilius (537-555) is accused of first condemning “The Three Chapters,” then of forbidding their condemnation, and finally of once more condemning them.
Vigilius did not change in the slightest his decision about the doctrinal matter in question. He always and clearly rejected the Nestorianism with which “The Three Chapters” were infected…. But the pope was under extremely difficult circumstances (as Justinian’s prisoner), and, surrounded by deceit and political intrigue, hesitated to make a prudential judgment. He did hesitate about the wisdom of condemning, at that time, those writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, and Ibas, bishop of Edessa, which were called the Tria Capitula (the authors themselves were already in their graves). The writings did deserve censure, but since their authors, after explicitly rejecting Nestorianism, had been welcomed back by the fathers of the Council of Chalcedon, condemnation of the writings would have been a stumbling block to many people, particularly the Westerners. These people would have taken the condemnation as a slap at the authority of the Council of Chalcedon.° Consequently, even if the pope acted a bit imprudently in this matter, he definitely made no error in matters of faith. For a fuller treatment of this extremely complicated matter, consult the historians cited … above. [Hefele, Conciliengeschichte (2nd ed.), II, 798 if.; Hergenröther-Kirsch, Kirchengeschichte, I, 602 if. See P[hilip] Hughes, A History of the Church [New York, 1949], I, 342 ff.; H. M. Diepen, O.S.B., Les trois chapitres au Concile de Chalcédoine (Oosterhout, 1953).]
° The Roman objection to issuing the condemnation was that since Theodoret and Ibas had been solemnly reinstated at Chalcedon any attack on them must have a prima facie appearance of a move away from Chalcedon. And indeed this was the first and immediate reading in the west of the very qualified condemnation issued by the pope in 548. There were passionate scenes everywhere, but in Africa especially, where the pope was excommunicated.
The pope’s position was all the more delicate – and his acts open to misinterpretation – from the fact that he was at this time Justinian’s prisoner, having been kidnapped in 545 and shipped to the capital when his first hesitancy about complying with the imperial will had shown itself.
Between the condemnation of 548, which the pope withdrew, and the meeting of the council – May 553 – there were a succession of crises, and the council met with the pope refusing to take any part in it. There were thus separate condemnations. One, by the pope, of the writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia, the other, by the council, of the Three Chapters – or rather an acceptance by the council of Justinian’s condemnation of them.
It remained to win the pope’s assent, and after six months more of bullying, of isolation and imprisonment, Vigilius, an old man past eighty years of age, yielded. He was then allowed to leave for Rome, whence he had been absent nearly ten years. – [Mgr. Philip] Hughes, Popular History of the Catholic Church [New York, 1949], pp. 43-4.
(Mgr. Gerard van Noort, Dogmatic Theology II: Christ’s Church [Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1957], n. 190, pp. 304-305; italics given. Substantial excerpts from the book can be found online here.)
The final pontiff from ancient times discussed by Dr. Kwasniewski in his second list is one of the recognize-and-resist lobby’s favorite villains, Pope Honorius I, who gets an additional paragraph of denigration. He is derided as having given “support to those who wished to fudge doctrinal clarity to conciliate a party in rebellion against the Church” in the Monothelite controversy, and, of course, his posthumous anathematization by the Third Council of Constantinople is invoked:
“We decide that Honorius be cast out of the holy Church of God.” The then reigning pope, Leo II, in a letter accepting the decrees of this council, condemned Honorius with the same forthrightness: “We anathematize Honorius, who did not seek to purify this apostolic Church with the teaching of apostolic tradition, but by a profane betrayal permitted its stainless faith to be surrendered.” In a letter to the bishops of Spain, Pope Leo II again condemned Honorius as one “who did not, as became the apostolic authority, quench the flame of heretical doctrine as it sprang up, but quickened it by his negligence.”
As strong as this evidence might sound, a closer examination shows that such is not the case. We turn to an article by Jean-Andre Perlant (d. 1994), who draws extensively from the writings of the ever-dependable St. Robert Bellarmine to demonstrate the falsity of such claims, asserting:
As St. Robert reports, all the scandalous stories started with the Sixth Synod [=Third Council] of Constantinople (681-682), e.g. “That synod has condemned Honorius as an heretic (act. 13) and has burnt his letters”.
Then started the endless publications of these conciliar “actions” by following councils, scrupulously repeated by a host of other writers, and even by popes throughout Christendom, even to our present day.
The burning of Honorius’ correspondence with Sergius, the Patriarch of Constantinople who triggered the affair, is significant. I personally find it extremely suspicious that the “judges” should have decided to burn “pieces of evidence”, [which were,] in fact, the only direct physical ones that were in existence. St. Robert is thus obliged to comment upon only two fragments; the rescued parts of the letters that had escaped combustion. He writes the following analysis:
In these letters there are not any errors. Honorius confesses, as far as this affair is concerned that there were in Jesus two will-powers that operated distinctly. He merely forbids anyone to use the phrases “only one will-power” or “two will-powers”, which had never been heard of before that time. But his confessing the real existence of both powers is conspicuous in his second letter:
“We must confess that there are two natures in One Christ, that they are coupled into natural unity in which they operate in communion with each other, that they are distinct operators. Each is endowed with its particular energy: one achieves what God intends, the other achieves what must be called the will of His flesh, the man’s purpose… They operate concurrently, without any separation or coalescing. We must teach that human nature is not to be fused into the Godhead, or inversely, Divine nature into humanity. We have to profess that both natures wholly retain their autonomy and differences. . .”
This proclamation is perfectly Catholic; it quite destroys Monothelism. Only grave reasons of prudence appear to have caused Honorius to forbid Sergius to use the phrases “two operations” or “one operation”. It was precisely the time when the dreadful heresy [of Monothelism] was being born, and nothing had yet been decided by the Church about the use of such terminology. These words had been heard for the first time in the sermons of Cyrus of Alexandria, who had then taught that there was only one “operation” in Jesus Christ. He was contradicted by Sophronius, the bishop of Jerusalem, who insisted that there were two powers operating. Cyrus had just appealed to Sergius, who referred the matter to Rome.
The pope was afraid of what might happen, and, nevertheless, did happen. The dispute developed into a grievous schism. Honorius immediately realized that if these words were not used, orthodoxy might be safe. To reconcile both parties, he aimed at removing the stumbling block; the very vocables that were the bone of contention. This is why he wrote in his first letter that the phrase “only one operation” was to be avoided, so as not to appear to be allowing only one nature to Christ as the Eutychians did. At the same time the phrase “two operations” was to be avoided so as not to appear to side with the Nestorians who claimed that Jesus consisted of two persons.
Honorius wrote: “. . . in order that people may not think that we are Nestorians, that we waddle into this sectarian mud because of the provoking vocables ‘twin operations’ and, similarly in order that surprised ears may not deduce from our speaking of one operation that we profess the devilish nonsense of the Eutychians.”
He goes on in his second letter teaching how to speak in order to have the opposite opinions reconciled: “To avoid the scandal of a new invention, we are not allowed to define that there are two operations. But instead of the unique operation achieving decisions, as some will say, we must speak of one person, our Lord Jesus Christ, truly acting according to His two natures: similarly instead of two operations, we had better speak of two natures and avoid words meaning twin processes; we had better speak of humanity and divinity assumed by one Being, the Godhead’s sole Son, and assert that both natures proceed along their own distinct manners, without separating from or fusing into each other.”
Why then should he speak of only one source of voluntariness a few lines further down?” [I.e., is he stupid enough to contradict himself in one and the same letter?] For he soon says: “Therefore we confess that there is only one voluntary origin to our Lord Jesus Christ’s actions.”
I answer that immediately before writing this passage Honorius had exclusively dealt with His human nature. He consequently wanted to say: there have never been conflicting will-powers in Jesus, namely flesh versus spirit, because the spiritual power of Christ’s manhood did not ask for anything unreasonable. This did Honorius bear in mind which is obvious if we follow what he explains:
“Therefore we mention only one will-power in Jesus. He did assume our human nature forsooth, but not the sinners’ one. This nature was such as it existed when first created before sinning; it was not the nature that became vitiated by sin.”
This way of reasoning is worthless if we use it to demonstrate that there is only one will-power in Jesus, both a perfect man and really God. But it is quite relevant to show that the man in Jesus has never suffered from opposing impulses, the will of the Flesh and that of His human spirit. For these conflicting inclinations in today’s men are born from sin. But Christ surely enjoys human nature immaculate.
(Jean-Andre Perlant, “Honorius I (625 – 638): The Sullied Reputation of a Holy Pope”; italics, bold, and underlining given.)
The quote from Bellarmine is found in his De Romano Pontifice, Book IV, Ch. 11. (Readers who are interested only in the chapters that deal with refuting the accusations against Popes having erred in Faith can purchase a less expensive and abridged version of the work here.)
Also worthy of consideration are the reflections of the staunch anti-Modernist Fr. Louis-Nazaire Bégin, who at the time of writing was professor of dogmatic theology and ecclesiastical history at the seminary of Québec, Canada, and who would achieve later distinction by being appointed Archbishop of Quebec by Pope Leo XIII in 1898 and created cardinal by Pope St. Pius X in 1914. In his 1873 book La Primauté et l’Infaillibilité des Souverains Pontifes (“The Primacy and Infallibility of the Sovereign Pontiffs”), Fr. Bégin has the following to say about the case of Pope Honorius:
As for the personal culpability of this Pontiff, I believe there was absolutely none. His desire to see the Monophysites return to the Church was certainly nothing other than most praiseworthy; there was darkness on the horizon; he wanted to avert new storms, and it is very likely that had the sectarians obeyed him, as he had hoped, if they had kept silence on the singleness or duality of operations in Jesus Christ according to the order he had given, the heresy would have suffocated in its crib. But it is not like truth’s enemies to be silent, they always scream louder than others; and if you manage to get them to rest a few moments from their scheming, it will only be so they can recommence their noisy clamoring with a new audacity.
The question of Honorius has always been the strongest bulwark of all those who have denied the infallibility of the Popes; it is there that they take refuge as a last resort when they have been hemmed in by their adversaries. We have just seen the weakness of their position. Once again the papacy has not let be extinguished in its hands the divine torch of truth intended to illuminate the peoples on their march towards the homeland. We have scoured the immense catacombs of history, and we cannot exhume the name of one single Pope who erred in his divine mission and made a lie of the divine word which came from the mouth of Jesus Christ Himself: “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep; confirm your brothers in the faith; you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.”
(Fr. Louis-Nazaire Bégin, La Primauté et l’Infaillibilité des Souverains Pontifes [Québec: L. H. Huot, 1873] Chapter 6; excerpted in “The Primacy and Infallibility of the Sovereign Pontiffs: The Case of Pope Honorius I”, Novus Ordo Watch; our translation.)
Thus far the conclusion of Fr. Begin. That of Mr. Perlant is also of particular consideration: “Lastly, let us mention that the opponents of the Doctrine of Infallibility during the debates at Vatican Council I which defined that doctrine, also used the specious argument of Pope Honorius I’s falsified ‘defection’ against it, and that argument was set aside as null and void by that Council” (underlining added).
As mentioned earlier, Dr. Kwasniewski identifies four ancient popes as being guilty of either ambiguity, silence when speaking out was necessary, or actively colluding with heretics. However, there is a modern example included as well: “Pope” John Paul II (1978-2005), who is cited for having
designed the gathering of world religions in Assisi in 1986 in such a way that the impression of indifferentism as well as the commission of sacrilegious and blasphemous acts were not accidental, but in accord with the papally approved program. His kissing of the Koran is all too well known. He was thus guilty of dereliction in his duty to uphold and proclaim the one true Catholic Faith and gave considerable scandal to the faithful.
(Kwasniewski, “A Brief Review of Papal Lapses”, One Peter Five, Aug. 6, 2018)
If Kwasniewski was rather harsh in his evaluation of the others mentioned on this list, curiously, he handles this post-Vatican II “pontiff” with kid gloves. Instead of acknowledging that John Paul II’s Assisi prayer meeting was a supreme act of religious indifferentism at which sacrilege and blasphemy took place as part of a “papally [sic] approved program”, he’s content to say that there was simply “the impression of indifferentism” — as though perhaps it just seemed like that’s what had happened, but not something that necessarily did. Likewise, he dismisses the significance of the reverencing of the Koran shown by John Paul. These acts constitute “considerable scandal” and a “dereliction of his duty to uphold and proclaim the only true Catholic faith”, but that’s as far as Dr. Kwasniewski will take it.
Granted, even at that, these would be serious offenses against the Faith, but the full extent of their betrayal is being greatly minimized here. Let us consider that this is the same John Paul II who at Vatican II, as Bishop Karol Wojtyla, declared: “It is not the Church’s place to teach unbelievers. She must seek in common with the world” (qtd. in Henri Fesquet, The Drama of Vatican II, trans. by Bernard Murchland [New York, NY: Random House, 1967], p. 444). This is one of the most outrageous of the many outrageous utterances heard at the council, as it constitutes a near word-for-word rejection of Christ’s Great Commission to the Apostles:
And Jesus coming, spoke to them, saying: All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.
Had it been Wojtyla, and not the deacon Philip, that the pagan eunuch encountered in Acts 8:26-31, the scene likely would have played out quite differently, and far less inspirationally. For when asked what he thought the writings of the prophet Isaias meant, the eunuch’s response, “And how can I, unless some man shew me?” (v. 31) could well have fallen on deaf ears, since the Koran kisser might have simply begged off, saying, “No, it’s not my place to teach you.”
That he was able to make such a transparently heterodox pronouncement, yet escape serious suspicion of heresy, is abundant proof that the Modernists were by then in more or less full control of the proceedings. This abandonment of one of the primary reasons for the Church’s existence, as well as of a spiritual act of mercy (instructing the ignorant), carried with John Paul II throughout his “pontificate”, and is sufficient reason to question his motives. Indeed, in his very first encyclical in 1979, in defiance to the Magisterium and Canon Law, he dared to teach:
What we have just said [about ecumenism with heretics] must also be applied — although in another way and with the due differences — to activity for coming closer together with the representatives of the non-Christian religions, an activity expressed through dialogue, contacts, prayer in common, investigation of the treasures of human spirituality, in which, as we know well, the members of these religions also are not lacking.
(Antipope John Paul II, Encyclical Redemptor Hominis, n. 6; underlining added.)
Although at the infamous Assisi interfaith prayer meeting John Paul II had separate rooms assigned for each false religion near the Basilica of Saint Francis, there was also shared prayer, in which representatives from each would go before the assembly to give their thoughts and prayers for peace at the podium. This included those offered to pagan deities by Hindus, American Indian shamans, African witch doctors, etc. In his closing address on October 27, 1986, “Pope” Wojtyla proceeded with a message with both universalist “everyone’s saved” and Modernistic “all religions have truth” overtones:
…we all hold conscience and obedience to the voice of conscience to be an essential element in the road towards a better and peaceful world.
Could it be otherwise, since all men and women in this world have a common nature, a common origin and a common destiny?
…there is the dimension of prayer, which in the very real diversity of religions tries to express communication with a Power above all our human forces.
(Antipope John Paul II, “Address to the Representatives of the Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities and of the World Religions”, Vatican.va, Oct. 27, 1986; underlining added)
John Paul II strongly reinforced the lie that all religions are equally valid by having the seating such that he was on exactly the same level as the rest. Of course, the Novus Ordo Sect isn’t any better than the others, worse in some ways, but the implied signal to the world is that the Roman Catholic Church is just one of many more or less good and noble ways to reach the Infinite.
As a Novus Ordo Watch blog post on Wojtyla’s apostasy observes:
So, not only did John Paul II order communicatio in sacris (shared prayer) with non-Catholics who profess to be followers of Christ, he even ordered it with non-Christians, that is, Jews, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Sikh, Buddhists, Shintoists, etc. — pagans, idolaters!
This wicked syncretist teaching he was only too happy to apply himself: After returning from a trip to Africa, he candidly admitted in a public Wednesday Audience: “Particularly striking was the prayer meeting in the sanctuary of Our Lady of Mercy at Lake Togo, where I also prayed for the first time with animists” (John Paul II, General Audience, Aug. 21, 1985, n. 8).
This man was not a Catholic, much less a saint! Catholics know they must convert the pagans and preach the Gospel to them (cf. Mk 16:16), not validate their idolatrous “traditional religion” by praying with them! And yet, the institution claiming to be the Catholic Church will “canonize” John Paul II and proclaim him a great saint, on April 27, 2014. Canonizations are acts endowed with infallibility, according to Catholic teaching (see here). The only way it is possible for the Vatican institution to declare John Paul II to be a model to all Catholics who is now in Heaven, is if the Vatican institution is not protected by the charism of infallibility; and the only way this is possible is if it is not in fact the Catholic Church and its head is not in fact a true Pope — which is what we’ve been saying all along.
The Modernist anti-Catholic theology that underlies John Paul II’s interreligious and ecumenical apostasy is exposed in the 4-volume series Pope John Paul II’s Theological Journey to the Prayer Meeting of Religions in Assisi by the (non-sedevacantist) Fr. Johannes Dormann.
(“John Paul the Great… Apostate! Wojtyla’s Assisi 1986″, Novus Ordo Wire, Feb. 8, 2014; italics given.)
Oddly enough, nearly two years ago OnePeterFive published an article on the Assisi betrayal that was far more scathing than Dr. Kwasniewski’s analysis. In “Remembering the Sacrilege of Assisi I, Thirty Years Later”, there are none of the generalities that plague “Papal Lapses”. And the stronger language should come as no surprise, given that the author whose book is excerpted there is Henry Sire, author of the recent best-seller, The Dictator Pope. Perhaps not so coincidentally, after the publication of a revised and updated edition of the work this past March, in which he shed the pseudonym he had used, Mr. Sire was promptly suspended from the Order of Malta. (What a way to prove the book’s premise!)
In “Remembering the Sacrilege of Assisi” Sire rightly makes the linkage between Vatican II and Assisi (allowances must be made for the fact that he isn’t a sedevacantist, but as one reads, in places one must wonder how it is that he is not one — though, as a whole, his thought processes exhibit all the self-contradiction inherent in the recognize-and-resist position):
The idea that the Church has officially adopted a heretical view of its own nature is one of the products of the Second Vatican Council and is the premise on which its ecumenical programme has been founded. Those who rely on a legalistic exculpation of the Church will protest that there is no doctrinal basis for it; but the substance of the matter is not the Church’s innocence in word but its guilt in promoting the heresy in practice.
Nevertheless, the worst enormity of the ecumenical movement has not yet been touched on. In this case, exceptionally, the guilt does not belong to the Second Vatican Council, nor to Paul VI. It is found in the perversion introduced into the ecumenical movement by John Paul II, who turned it from a search for Christian unity to a general convergence of world religions. Several times in his reign this false direction led him into shocking associations with paganism. Thus, during his visit to India in February 1982, he allowed a Hindu priestess to impose the mark of Telak on him, and another a few days later to smear sacred ashes on his forehead in a Hindu ritual. In 1995, in Australia, he conducted the beatification Mass of Mary of the Cross McKillop, at which the penitential rite was replaced by a ritual taken from aboriginal fire worship.
But these exhibitions were outdone by the pope’s project of summoning leaders of all the world’s religions to join him at Assisi in October 1986 with the object of praying together for world peace. At this meeting, under the pope’s presidency, representatives of many Christian churches, together with an assortment of Hindus, Tibetan lamas, Japanese bonzes, tribal snake worshippers, and animists of all sorts performed their respective rites, some of the less mainstream officiants showing a little embarrassment at having to exhibit their customs outside the privacy of their native groves. For a day, the town of St. Francis was given over to displays of pagan worship. Cardinal Silvio Oddi reported that a group of Buddhists entered the church of San Pietro, set up a statue of Buddha on the tabernacle of the altar and venerated it with prayer scrolls and incense; when a Benedictine priest protested at the sacrilege he was taken away by the police.26 These activities, all conducted at the pope’s behest, provoke the question what meaning John Paul attached to the first Commandment, by order and by importance, “Thou shalt not have strange gods before Me.”
But before considering this moral point, let us look at the rationale of Pope John Paul’s policy of a union of all faiths, including paganism. The first question that arises is what duty Christians have to such a policy. What we owe to pagans is good sense as human beings and charity as Christians; but neither of those involves treating Christianity and mythological religions as all part of an underlying spiritual reality. A friendly meeting between the pope and the Dalai Lama could have little harm in it, but that does not imply behaving as if Buddhism were a legitimate expression of divine truth, let alone encouraging its practice. Next to this question, we may ask what use it can be for the Catholic Church to make a rapprochement to Buddhists, Hindus, and tribal shamans. These religions have no defined moral or doctrinal code with which Christianity could make common cause, and the practical aims that can be served by collaboration with Protestants do not apply.
In a more conceptual line, we may be tempted to ask what reasoning should prompt Christianity to consider itself at one with religions of ancestral mythology. We do not usually find medical practitioners going into congress with tribal witch doctors, on the grounds that they share a heart-warming impulse to cure the sick. A more analytical purpose is called for, and in Pope John Paul’s gesture one does not see what it is. The basis of Christian belief is not a human instinct of religion but the objective revelation of God. It may be an exaggeration to say that Christianity would rather take irreligious philosophers as its fellow seekers of truth; but it would have more of a logical basis to it, and give less of a false impression. From the conceptual point of view, John Paul II would have been better justified in holding meetings with philosophers and scientists than with worshippers of anthropomorphic and theromorphic[°] gods.
[°theromorphic — probably a misspelling of theriomorphic, which is defined as “(especially of a deity) having an animal form”, according to the Oxford Dictionary site.]
(Henry Sire, excerpted in “Remembering the Sacrilege of Assisi I, Thirty Years Later”, One Peter Five, Oct. 27, 2016)
The Assisi abomination is proof positive that theological freakishness didn’t begin with Bergoglio’s Twilight Zone, but also that there are light years of difference between the real popes Dr. Kwasniewski would somehow have us identify as connivers with heresy, and the truly heretical “papal” conniver, Karol Wojtyla.
St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Papacy (1542-1621)
Further Down The Recognize & Resist Rabbit Hole
And finally we come to the third list, that of the “Popes Who Taught Something Heretical, Savoring of Heresy, or Harmful to the Faithful”. Now, that’s what we call hedging one’s bet! It may be heresy, it could be heresy, it’s sort of like heresy… whatever.
Kwasniewski knows he’s entering an area where there’s going to be some tough sledding, but he’s going to rush in anyway:
Here we enter into more controversial territory, but there can be no doubt that the cases listed below are real problems for a papal positivist or ultramontanist, in the sense that the latter term has recently acquired: one who overstresses the authority of the words and actions of the reigning pontiff as if they were the sole or principal standard of what constitutes the Catholic Faith.
(Kwasniewski, “A Brief Review of Papal Lapses”, One Peter Five, Aug. 6, 2018)
Leading off is the “heresy” of Pope Paschal II (1099-1118), and in this instance it is Dr. Kwasniewski who uses the quotation marks, indicating that he understands the teaching in question may not be heretical in the strict sense of being a denial or doubt of a dogma. Paschal broke with papal precedent by bestowing upon Emperor Henry V the privilege of investing bishops with ring and crosier. This immediately drew strongest imaginable rebuke from a major religious figure of the time:
In a letter, St. Bruno of Segni (c. 1047-1123) called Pope Paschal’s position “heresy” because it contradicted the decisions of many church councils and argued that whoever defended the pope’s position also became a heretic thereby. Although the pope retaliated by removing St. Bruno from his office as abbot of Monte Cassino, eventually Bruno’s argument prevailed, and the pope renounced his earlier decision.
Various forms of the word heresy were not always used in the medieval era with the precision we’re accustomed to in modern times. Clearly, Pope Paschal’s promotion of lay investiture constituted a breach in the longstanding practice of the day, but in no wise was it a heresy. St. Bruno was using the hyperbolic language of the age and nothing more, and in this he was not alone: “…Pascal was denounced by many as if he were a heretic. Many spoke as though the concession he had granted to the emperor in a matter that concerned ecclesiastical discipline were a declaration of formal heresy” (Rev. Horace K. Mann, The Lives of the Popes in the Middle Ages, vol. VIII, 2nd ed. [London: Kegan Paul, 1925], p. 62; italics and underlining added).
In his defense of Popes accused of erring in matters of Faith, St. Robert Bellarmine does not bring up the case of Paschal II at all, indicating that it needed no defense — apparently no one in his day thought of the controversy as involving a denial of dogma or even of being a doctrinal matter. Not even Johann Dollinger, the infamous opponent of papal infallibility who was excommunicated in 1871 for refusing to accept Vatican I, brought up the investiture controversy against Paschal II, despite the fact that he had tried to slam the Popes of history with as many errors as he thought he could find for his book The Pope and the Council (which was placed on the Index of Forbidden Books in 1869).
Before moving to the next pope on the list, it should be noted that Paschal had been imprisoned by Henry and pressured into approving what he called “that extorted portion of the agreement” (qtd. in Mann, Lives of the Popes, vol. VIII, p. 59). In the end, “Paschal humbly acknowledged his weakness” and rescinded his concession to Henry V (Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Pope Paschal II”). It is true that in the meantime he had punished St. Bruno by removing him from his post running Monte Cassino, but that is only half of the story, and the whole truth is less severe. St. Bruno was not just an abbot but also a bishop, and the Pope simply sent him back to his diocese: “Irritated by his opposition, Paschal II commanded Bruno to give up his abbey and to return to his episcopal see” (Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “St. Bruno”).
So, Pope Paschal II? Definitely not a heretic.
Burrowing further down into futility, Dr. Kwasniewski introduces the surefire, tried-and-true “heretic pope”, John XXII (1316-1334). A major study on the subject is forthcoming to Novus Ordo Watch, but for now we will rely on our previous preliminary treatment. It’s worth quoting the opening of paragraph as a general rule for researchers that too often goes unheeded:
At a time when countless supposed “traditional Catholics” don’t think twice about accusing an unquestionably true Pope of the past of teaching heresy or at least grave doctrinal error, it behooves us to remind everyone that instead of simply believing whatever you see posted on a blog somewhere, the safer course is to simply look the stuff up. It’s not like these questions never came up before or that no clear answer was ever put forward.
(“In Brief: The Facts on Pope John XXII”, Novus Ordo Wire, Oct. 4, 2017; italics given.)
This is particularly apropos the matter at hand, because unfortunately Kwasniewski only did the most cursory of research, and with all the misinformation and disinformation surrounding that much-vilified pontiff, cursory just doesn’t cut it. He begins fairly well enough:
In his public preaching from November 1, 1331 to January 5, 1332, Pope John XXII denied the doctrine that the just souls are admitted to the beatific vision, maintaining that this vision would be delayed until the general resurrection at the end of time. This error had already been refuted by St. Thomas Aquinas and many other theologians, but its revival on the very lips of the pope drew forth the impassioned opposition of a host of bishops and theologians…
(Kwasniewski, “A Brief Review of Papal Lapses”, One Peter Five, Aug. 6, 2018)
We say “fairly well enough”, because, to start with, he doesn’t indicate that the pope’s error was merely an erroneous theological opinion. True, by the time he was preaching it, it was a minority opinion in disrepute, but that doesn’t tell the entire story. It should be kept in mind that, at the time of the Beatific Vision controversy, the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, eminent as they were, had only been in existence for about half a century. Conversely, the view held by Pope John XXII was hardly a novel or radical one, as those promoting the “heretical pope” narrative would have us believe; rather, it was a position that had been given weight by some of the Church’s most eminent theologians for centuries.
In a study on the question of “papal heresy”, a professor at the Society of St. Pius X’s seminary in Ecône, Switzerland, says the following concerning John XXII’s theological sources: “The chief authority on which he relies is Saint Bernard. The latter had been influenced by Saint Hilary, Saint Ambrose, and Saint Augustine, whose language is not always very clear” (Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize, “The Question of Papal Heresy, Part 2”, sspx.org, Feb. 14, 2017). So, here we have it from a man who’s not a sedevacantist, but who, on the other hand, isn’t someone interested in needlessly dragging a pontiff’s posthumous reputation through the mud either. It is simply a fact of history that a mere 200 years or so before the pontificate of John XXII, it was St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) who had taught the very same view with regard to the Beatific Vision as Pope John did in the 1300s. St. Bernard was declared a saint by Pope Alexander III in 1174, so Pope John had the backing of a canonized saint for his theological position.
Thus, Kwasniewski’s research problem number one is insinuating, falsely, that Pope John’s “revival” of an opinion that had been reasonably, if mistakenly, taught clearly by one Doctor of the Church and at least apparently by no fewer than three other Doctors of the Church, was tantamount to reviving the errors of Arius, Nestorius, or some other heresiarch from centuries past.
The second problem would be how the impression is given that the “impassioned opposition” was solely or even principally a theological one, whereas a strong case can be made that there was a good deal of “ecclesial politics” involved. Another major conflict that John XXII had been embroiled in was his opposition to a radical offshoot of the Franciscan Order known as the Fraticelli, and it is known that some of those opposing his stand on the Beatific Vision were sympathizers with that heretical sect.
But the third research problem is the most colossal of all, for Dr. Kwasniewski makes the bold assertion that “St. Robert Bellarmine admits that John XXII held a materially heretical opinion with the intention of imposing it on the faithful but was never permitted by God to do so.” We will examine the source Kwasniewski gives for this audacious claim in a moment — let’s first have a look at what St. Robert actually wrote in the benchmark study we’ve been consulting, De Romano Pontifice:
John, at that time, really thought that souls would not see God unless it were after the resurrection: others so reckoned when still it was lawful without danger of heresy, since still no definition of the Church had gone before him. John, moreover, wished to define the question, but while still preparing and in consultations, died, as Benedict XII, his successor, witnessed in [the Apostolic Constitution] which begins: Benedictus Deus, the whole of which Alphonsus a Castro relates.
Furthermore, John Villanus relates that Pope John, before his death, partly declared and even partly recanted his opinion. First, it is on good evidence that he never had it in his mind, although he had spoken on this matter, to define the question, rather only to treat it so as to discover the truth. Next, he added that John already thought the opinion was the more probable, that asserts the souls of the blessed enjoy the divine vision even before the day of judgment, and he embraced this opinion, unless at some time the Church would have defined otherwise, and he subjected all his teachings freely to its definition. This retraction simply teaches that the mind of Pope John XXII was always good and Catholic.
(St. Robert Bellarmine, On the Roman Pontiff, vol. 2, Book IV, Ch. 14, pp. 229-230; italics given; underlining added.)
In other words, St. Robert noted that (1) there was no question of heresy because the teaching Pope John denied was not yet a dogma; (2) he had no intention of declaring his position dogmatically, he only wanted to have the dispute for the sake of testing the arguments; (3) at no time did John mean to act contrary to the authority of the Church.
How, then, does Kwasniewski get a thesis of ‘Bellarmine admits John XXII tried to impose heresy on the faithful but God intervened’ out of this? It seems to be a case of one biased scholar following the lead of another, for Kwasniewski provides a footnote with a link to his source, an article by Novus Ordo church historian Roberto de Mattei, who has a strong recognize-and-resist bias. De Mattei contends:
Following these doctrinal decisions, the thesis sustained by John XXII must be considered formally heretical, even if at that time the Pope sustained that it was still not defined as dogma of faith. St. Robert Bellarmine who dealt amply with this issue in De Romano Pontifice (Opera omnia, Venetiis 1599, Book. IV, chap. 14, coll. 841-844) writes that John XXII supported a heretical thesis, with the intention of imposing it as the truth on the faithful, but died before he could have defined the dogma, without therefore, undermining the principle of pontifical infallibility by his behavior.
(Roberto de Mattei, “A Pope Who Fell Into Heresy, a Church That Resisted: John XXII and the Beatific Vision”, Rorate Caeli, Jan. 28, 2015; italics given.)
The problem is that Prof. de Mattei is not accurately presenting what St. Robert actually said. It would have behooved Dr. Kwasniewski to read the cited text himself instead of relying on his colleague.
What made de Mattei claim that according to Bellarmine John had “the intention of imposing” his error-later-to-be-declared-heresy on the faithful? Presumably, it is this part of the text quoted above: “John, moreover, wished to define the question, but while still preparing and in consultations, died….” What may at first seem like support for de Mattei’s thesis is nothing of the kind, for St. Robert says that Pope John “never had it in his mind, although he had spoken on this matter, to define the question, rather only to treat it so as to discover the truth.” This apparent contradiction is easily resolved if we understand St. Robert to be saying that Pope John never intended to define his personal view as dogma but did intend, eventually, to settle the question — which required, however, that he “treat it so as to discover the truth”.
In short, de Mattei is simply guilty of a misreading of St. Robert Bellarmine, and Kwasniewski blindly adopted that misinterpretation. This is not a good recipe for writing an article that decries “a papalism that blinds Catholics to … reality…”. Oh well.
The final historical pontiff discussed by Dr. Kwasniewski is Pope Paul III (1534-1549), who
approved and promulgated the radically novel and simplified breviary of Cardinal Quignonez, which, although approved as an option for the private recitation of clergy, ended up in some cases being implemented publicly. Some Jesuits welcomed it, but most Catholics – including St. Francis Xavier – viewed it with grave misgivings and opposed it, sometimes violently, because it was seen as an unwarrantable attack on the liturgical tradition of the Church.
(Kwasniewski, “A Brief Review of Papal Lapses”, One Peter Five, Aug. 6, 2018)
This simplified breviary was attacked at the Council of Trent and ultimately prohibited by Pope St. Pius V (1566-1572), so it is certainly true that there were serious shortcomings to the book. However, after consulting a standard reference work, The Divine Office: A Study of the Roman Breviary, it becomes clear that the problems were not primarily theological in nature, as the orthodoxy of the devout Cardinal Quignonez was not called into question. The author, Fr. E. J. Quigley, observes that at the time there were three schools of thought concerning reform of the Divine Office. At one extreme were the Humanists, who argued that the Latin ought to be more elegant, Ciceronian in style, while the traditionalists resisted all major efforts at reform. But there was also another group:
A third school, the moderate school, was represented by Cardinal Pole, Contarini, Sadolet and Quignonez, a Spanish cardinal who had been General of the Franciscans. The work of reform of the Breviary was undertaken by Cardinal Quignonez (1482-1540). He was a man of great personal piety and possessed a love for liturgy and an accurate knowledge of its history, its essentials, and its acquired defects. After seven years’ labour at the matter and form of the Breviary, his work, Quignonez’s Breviary (Brevarium Romanum a Francisco Cardinali Quignonio) appeared in 1535. It was for private use only, and was not intended as a choir manual. Yet so popular was his work that, in 1536, six editions had appeared, and in thirty-three years (until its suppression by St. Pius V.) it went through no less than a hundred editions. Its immense success shows how much the need of Breviary change and reform was felt by the clergy. The book, too, had an important influence on shaping the Breviary produced by Pius V. (1566-1572). Quignonez’s book was reproduced with the variations of the four earliest editions, by the Cambridge University Press in 1888. It is an interesting study in itself and in comparison with later breviaries.
But it was felt by scholars that Quignonez’s reforms were too drastic. Tradition was ignored. The labour for brevity, simplicity and uniformity led to the removal from this Breviary of antiphons, responses, little chapters and versicles, and to the reduction of lessons at matins to three, and the number of psalms in each hour was usually only three. His work had as a set principle the grand old liturgical idea of the weekly recitation of the whole psalter. The quick and almost universal demand for Quignonez’s Breviary indicated the need of a reform and the outline of such a reform. The Pope, who commissioned Quignonez to take up breviary reform, requested the Theatines to take up similar work. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) took up the work of reform. But the Council rose before the work had made headway, and the matter of reform was finally effected by St. Pius V. (1566-1572), by his Constitution, Quod a nobis (1568).
(Rev. E. J. Quigley, The Divine Office: A Study of the Roman Breviary [Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son, Ltd., 1920], pp. 14-15; italics given.)
Quignonez was no radical, but “a man of great personal piety”, whose work, as flawed as it clearly was, “had an important influence on shaping the Breviary produced by Pius V.” For the record, his breviary was commissioned by Pope Clement VII, not Paul III, who would later approve and promulgate it. In any case, there’s nothing to show that it was harmful to souls, much less heretical or savoring of heresy.
At this point, Dr. Kwasniewski finally gets to three modern “popes” who can be accurately described as heretics: Paul VI, John Paul II, and Francis. (How were John XXIII and Benedict XVI left out?) So much has been — and likely will continue to be — written about them on Novus Ordo Watch that it’s not necessary here to do more than touch briefly on each.
Paul VI (1963-1978) promulgated documents at Vatican II that are in clear opposition to Scripture and the Magisterium, and the first edition of his General Instruction for the Novus Ordo Missae (“New Mass”) contains a heretical description of the nature of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, an anti-Catholic rite which still continues its destructive path unimpeded in our day. In all seriousness, Paul VI defined the Holy Catholic Mass as follows:
The Lord’s Supper, or Mass, is the sacred meeting or congregation of the people of God assembled, the priest presiding, to celebrate the memorial of the Lord. For this reason, Christ’s promise applies eminently to such a local gathering of holy Church: “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I in their midst” (Mt. 18:20).
(“General Instruction of the Roman Missal”, Missale Romanum: Ordo Missae Editio Typica [Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1969], n. 7)
The Mass as an assembly of the faithful who celebrate the Last Supper with a priest as their presider? Martin Luther couldn’t have agreed more! The Catechism of the Council of Trent, on the other hand, gave the unchangeable Catholic definition:
…[T]he Sacrifice of the Mass is and ought to be considered one and the same Sacrifice as that of the cross, for the victim is one and the same, namely, Christ our Lord, who offered Himself, once only, a bloody Sacrifice on the altar of the cross. The bloody and unbloody victim are not two, but one victim only, whose Sacrifice is daily renewed in the Eucharist, in obedience to the command of our Lord: Do this for a commemoration of me.
The priest is also one and the same, Christ the Lord; for the ministers who offer Sacrifice, consecrate the holy mysteries, not in their own person, but in that of Christ, as the words of consecration itself show, for the priest does not say: This is the body of Christ, but, This is my body; and thus, acting in the Person of Christ the Lord, he changes the substance of the bread and wine into the true substance of His body and blood.
(Catechism of the Council of Trent for Parish Priests, trans. by John A. McHugh and Charles J. Callan [London: Joseph F. Wagner, 1923], p. 258; italics given. The full text of this Catechism is available online here.)
Paul VI’s rotten legacy is legion; there is no need to dwell on it further.
John Paul II’s defection from the Faith was already examined in depth earlier, but to that Kwasniewski adds that he taught that people have the right to change their religion in accord with their conscience, when in fact people only have the genuine right to embrace the true religion, the Roman Catholic Faith. One may tolerate a person’s conversion to a false religion, but one can never approve of it, much less consider it a right, as John Paul II did, thereby promoting the error of indifferentism, condemned so strongly by Pope Pius IX in his celebrated Syllabus of Errors (see Denz. 1715-1718).
As for Francis (2013-present) — where to start?! Dr. Kwasniewski admits the same bewilderment at such an embarrassment of heretical “riches”. He settles on two: the ever-present “explicit approval of giving Holy Communion to divorced and ‘remarried’ Catholics who have no intention of living as brother and sister”, and the pseudo-“development of doctrine” claimed for his reversal of the traditional Catholic teaching of the permissibility of capital punishment:
The worst aspect of this change, as many have already pointed out, is that it loudly transmits the signal, most welcome to progressives, liberals, and modernists, that doctrines handed down over centuries or millennia, printed in every penny catechism that has ever rolled off the printing press, are up for revision….
(Kwasniewski, “A Brief Review of Papal Lapses”, One Peter Five, Aug. 6, 2018)
What remains to be seen is how much more Francis will have “revised” by the time he gets called by the Divine Judge to render an account (cf. Mt 12:36; Rom 14:12; 1 Pet 4:5).
Recognize-and-Resist Lapses of Logic
It is always maddening to read articles such as Kwasniewski’s “Lessons from Church History: A Brief Review of Papal Lapses” with their inherent illogic. In the present case, there’s a persistent and necessarily unsuccessful effort to fit the square peg into the round hole by suggesting there’s really no essential difference between the bad pre-Vatican II popes and the bad post-Vatican II “popes” — it’s all one and the same. Dr. Kwasniewski explains his take on the R&R mantra in this manner:
This overview, from Paschal II to Francis, suffices to allow us to see one essential point: if heresy can be held and taught by a pope, even temporarily or to a certain group, it is a fortiori possible that disciplinary acts promulgated by the pope, even those intended for the universal Church, may also be harmful. After all, heresy in itself is worse than lax or contradictory discipline.
This much is true, but the only men cited by the author who have truly “held and taught” heresy are Paul VI, John Paul II, and Francis — three false popes. In fact, what Kwasniewski says here — that popes can hold and teach heresy — is a theological impossibility and entirely incompatible with the Catholic teaching on the Papacy, as Novus Ordo Watch’s collection of authoritative quotes from the Catholic Magisterium beautifully shows:
This is not difficult to understand and should really be no grounds for dispute. For example, if the Pope can teach heresy to the faithful, how can Pius IX say that the pope’s “office does not fail even in an unworthy heir”? How is it possible for the same pope to teach that “one simple way to keep men professing Catholic truth is to maintain their communion with and obedience to the Roman Pontiff”? How can he say of heretics that “never at any time were they able by any artifice or exertion to make this See tolerate even a single one of their errors”? (All quotes taken from the encyclical Nostis et Nobiscum.)
Even Fr. Gleize, definitely no sedevacantist, sees it as more than a bit absurd to try to suggest that Pope John XXII was some sort of 14th century precursor to “Pope” Francis:
John XXII presented himself in his sermons not as Pope speaking ex cathedra but as a private teacher who is giving his opinion (hanc opinionem = this opinion) and acknowledges that it is debatable while seeking to prove it. In his second speech we read these words: “I say, like Saint Augustine, that if I am mistaken here, let the one who knows better correct me. This is how it seems to me, nothing else; unless someone shows me a contrary decision of the Church or an authoritative argument from Sacred Scripture that would express this matter more clearly than the above-cited authorities.”
To see here an attitude prefiguring that of the promulgator of Amoris laetitia would be rather bold; spare us such hypocrisy.
(Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize, “The Question of Papal Heresy, Part 2”, sspx.org, Feb. 14, 2017; italics given.)
In the final analysis, the only answer to the “How do we deal with a heretical pope?” question is to face reality and acknowledge that a “heretical pope” is an artificial construct, much like a unicorn, a golden mountain, or a flying pig — nay worse still, like a square circle, since it is really a contradiction in terms.
Catholics should be grateful that such a creature as a heretical pope cannot possibly exist, for Christ has made the Papacy fail-safe:
(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.].
(Pope Pelagius II, Apostolic Letter Quod ad Dilectionem; Denz. 246; underlining added.)
Similar to the taped instruction from Mission: Impossible, if a pope were to lose the Faith — if such a thing be possible — he would by that very fact self-destruct., that is, he would immediately cease being Pope, as St. Robert Bellarmine teaches in De Romano Pontifice: “…a Pope who is a manifest heretic, ceases in himself to be Pope and head, just as he ceases in himself to be a Christian and member of the body of the Church: whereby, he can be judged and punished by the Church” (Book II, Ch. 30). The papacy necessitates and implies the Faith, for it is its divinely guaranteed guardian. This is how God has instituted the office of His Vicar. Shall we not believe Him?
Unfortunately, acknowledging this truth about the papacy — and it is an integral part of the doctrine — is something the R&R proponents find themselves incapable of doing, and so Kwasniewski can’t resist recycling for the umpteenth time what must be one of the most misused quotes in all of Church history — the quotation from St. Robert Bellarmine concerning resistance against a pope who attempts to destroy the Church:
Just as it is licit to resist the Pontiff that aggresses the body, it is also licit to resist the one who aggresses souls or who disturbs civil order, or, above all, who attempts to destroy the Church. I say that it is licit to resist him by not doing what he orders and by preventing his will from being executed; it is not licit, however, to judge, punish, or depose him, since these acts are proper to a superior.
(St. Robert Bellarmine, De Romano Pontifice, Book II, Ch. 29; qtd. in Kwasniewski, “A Brief Review of Papal Lapses”, fn. 22).
For decades the recognize-and-resist crowd has bullheadedly tried to use this quote as justification for its false position. It might indeed supply them with their proof were it but for two nagging facts. First, Bellarmine doesn’t believe in heretical popes, as has been shown; therefore, there is no such pope to resist. Second, when read in context, it turns out that St. Robert is referring to such popes as might give morally evil commands (such as telling someone to blaspheme the name of God), not popes who would impose false teaching (such as the death penalty being contrary to the Gospel) or evil discipline (such as Communion for unrepentant public adulterers) on the Church; and in any case, he’s not even addressing rank-and-file Catholics but those in power, such as kings and prelates.
What St. Robert says with regard to the faithful’s duty of submission to what the Pope teaches, is something people have probably not heard from the R&R crowd:
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, On the Roman Pontiff, vol. 2, Book IV, Ch. 3, p. 160; underlining added.)
The worst takeaway from recognize-and-resisters is the inability or unwillingness to see the forest for the trees, or even to correctly distinguish trees from telephone poles at times.
Bergoglio may be the worst apostate Modernist imaginable, but he’s still their “Papa Francisco.” Clearly, a major wakeup call is in order for these people, but it’s difficult to fathom just what it might take at this point in time. Even the Vigano revelation isn’t it, because the issues there are moral lapses, not doctrinal ones. But if Francis’s ever-rising garbage dump of heresy, error, and blasphemy doesn’t get them by virtue of its ungodly stench, then what will?
St. Robert Bellarmine, pray for them!
Image sources: Wikimedia Commons / rorate-caeli.blogspot.com / Wikimedia Commons
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