Why those troubles do point to Sedevacantism…
Peter Kwasniewski and “the Troubles of this Pontificate”:
A Sedevacantist Reply
As of late, more and more Novus Ordo and semi-trad publications have felt the need to write something about — that is, something against — Sedevacantism. That’s a good sign, since it shows that the truth about the nature of the Vatican II Sect and its anti-Catholic hierarchy is making inroads like never before. Were it not so, the Novus Ordo pundits and commentators would not give this issue the time of day.
And no wonder: Never since the Modernists took over the Vatican in 1958 has the chaos been greater than today under the man who styles himself “Pope Francis” — Jorge Bergoglio — a mere layman, an Argentine Jesuit without even so much as a valid diaconate ordination. Francis has caused so much chaos that even hard-core Novus Ordo apologists — such as Patrick Madrid, Michael Voris, and Patrick Coffin, for example — have begun staggering.
One of the more recent anti-sedevacantist contributions in Novus Ordo Land comes from Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, a philosophy and theology professor who takes a recognize-and-resist approach to the Francis “pontificate” and is thus a popular pundit happily consulted and promoted by publications such as One Peter Five, Life Site, and Rorate Caeli. The monograph in question is a fairly brief post entitled “Why the Troubles of this Pontificate do not point to Sedevacantism” and was published at Life Site on November 7. In what follows, we will respond to the major claims made in the piece.
Kwasniewski on Sedevacantism and the Papacy
Leaving aside Kwasniewski’s brief reference to the material/formal theory (aka “Cassiciacum Thesis”) adhered to by some Sedevacantists (explained and defended here), we come to his first substantial point of criticism:
The real root of sedevacantism is ultramontanism – the very problem under which we have been suffering since the First Vatican Council. Because none of the popes after Pius XII has lived up to the heights of doctrinal perfection and personal sanctity that ultramontanists unreasonably expect in the Vicar of Christ, they are therefore tempted to conclude that these popes must not really be popes. But what is needed, instead, is a gritty realism that recognizes how seriously popes can mess up.
(Peter Kwasniewski, “Why the Troubles of this Pontificate do not point to Sedevacantism”, Life Site, Nov. 7, 2018; italics given.)
Confronted with such a straw man right at the outset, one really struggles to take Kwasniewski’s subsequent lines seriously. We can enumerate two major errors in this paragraph alone: (1) Ultramontanism is not a problem but Catholic teaching, as we will see further down below; (2) we Ultramontanists do not expect “personal sanctity” in the Vicar of Christ, although such sanctity is highly desirable; and we expect “doctrinal perfection” only in the sense that the Pope must actually be a Catholic, since Catholic doctrine holds that the Pope is the “head of the whole Church and father and teacher of all Christians”. This teaching is not a problem for a genuine Catholic to accept because Christ promised that the Pope’s “faith would not fail” and so “his office does not fail even in an unworthy heir” so that “it is impossible for a man ever to reject any portion of the Catholic faith without abandoning the authority of the Roman Church” (all quotes from Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Nostis et Nobiscum, nn. 16-17). We thus challenge Dr. Kwasniewski to embrace “a gritty realism” himself — with regard to the Catholic doctrine on the Papacy, that is.
One would think that the essential difference between a morally bad Catholic and a non-Catholic is known to someone who professes to be a Catholic, has published countless books and articles on philosophy and theology, lists ecclesiology as one of his areas of specialization, and has resigned from the position of Professor of Theology & Philosophy at Wyoming Catholic College in order “to pursue a career as a freelance author, public speaker, editor, publisher, and composer, with the intention of dedicating his life to the articulation and defense of Catholic Tradition in all its dimensions” (source). But maybe not.
Just how seriously is something that cannot be spelled out in advance of history showing it to us. I’m sure prior to Honorius there would have been people saying “A pope can never endorse heresy.” Well, along comes Honorius and upsets that apple-cart. (He’s not the only one to upset it, either.) Sure, all kinds of elaborate defenses and distinctions can be made to show that Honorius or the other doctrinally dubious popes did not attempt to enforce heresy on the faithful by an ex cathedra pronouncement (etc.), but this does not modify the fact that a successor of Peter and a Vicar of Christ can, in fact, think erroneously about matters of faith and morals, and utter those erroneous opinions in a non-binding manner. Knowing that this is indeed possible is enormously helpful when confronted with a pope like Francis, who is swimming in the deep end of error on all manner of things.
Ah yes, the case of the seventh-century Pope Honorius! But even just a little bit of serious research reveals that, contrary to the popular misconception, Pope Honorius did not endorse or teach heresy in his letter to the Patriarch Sergius, as explained by St. Robert Bellarmine, who also knew a little bit about Catholic history and the theology of the Papacy: “…no error is contained in these epistles of Honorius. For Honorius confesses in these epistles, what pertains to the matter of two wills and operations in Christ, and he only forbids the name of one or two wills, which then were unheard of, and he did it with prudent counsel”, writes the Doctor of the Papacy in his celebrated work De Romano Pontifice (Book IV, Ch. 11; Grant translation). However, anti-sedevacantist recognize-and-resist traditionalists like Kwasniewski only like to quote Bellarmine where he talks about resisting the Pope, and on that point they actually misrepresent his true position, which becomes evident when one reads the larger context, as demonstrated here.
The “Honorius Question” was debated up and down before and during the First Vatican Council, and the result was the council’s teaching that “the See of St. Peter always remains unimpaired by any error, according to the divine promise of our Lord and Savior made to the chief of His disciples: ‘I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren’ [Luke 22:32]” (Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 4; Denz. 1836).
Those who are interested in exploring the case of Pope Honorius in depth are encouraged to read our post on the issue, which links to an exclusive translation of an in-depth study of the question by Fr. Louis-Nazaire Bégin (1840-1925), who had the benefit of being able to draw from all the research done in preparation for the council, from the acts of the council, and from its teachings. Begin was later appointed Archbishop of Quebec, Canada, by Pope Leo XIII and a cardinal by Pope St. Pius X. Jean-Andre Perlant’s article “Honorius I (625 – 638): The Sullied Reputation of a Holy Pope” is also highly recommended.
Kwasniewski’s claim that “[j]ust how seriously is something that cannot be spelled out in advance of history showing it to us” is a false and dangerous argument. It is dangerous because it asserts that the divine limits to and protection of the Papacy is known only a posteriori from history — that is, we have to “wait and see” first before we can know it — rather than a priori, before, and independent of, any occurrence in history because it is given to us in the Deposit of Faith. It is false because, not only is it untrue and incompatible with the Catholic teaching on the Papacy, it is also a case of begging the question and therefore fallacious. Kwasniewski is essentially saying that “we know a Pope can be a heretic because that’s what we have in Francis.” But this assumes as true the very question under discussion, namely: Is the heretic Francis a valid Pope? With a Ph.D. in philosophy, Kwasniewski knows that begging the question is not sound argumentation. He cannot assume as true what he first needs to prove to be true.
The author claims it is a “fact” that “a successor of Peter and a Vicar of Christ can, in fact, think erroneously about matters of faith and morals, and utter those erroneous opinions in a non-binding manner.” Notice how he has custom-tailored the wording to benefit his argument, just as he did earlier when he talked about “doctrinal perfection.” Never in this whole controversy has anyone ever said anything about “thinking erroneously” about Faith and morals. This isn’t about personal thoughts, this is about the Church’s Magisterium and whether the man who claims to be the Vicar of Christ is even a Catholic. As far as “uttering opinions” goes, this euphemistic wording is quite misleading. It simply depends on what we’re talking about. If a baptized Catholic says that in his view, Jesus Christ is not God, then he has not merely “uttered an opinion in a non-binding way”, then he has committed the public sin of heresy, and he immediately ceases to be a member of the Church. This would be true even more so for the Pope, or for someone claiming to be. Kwasniewski’s verbal tricks here are only helpful to advancing his own false argument, they are not conducive to gaining better insight into the subject matter.
Let’s not be fooled here. We all know how this works among the semi-traditionalists: Francis says something — whether informally off the cuff or quite officially and even as “authentic Magisterium”, it does not matter — and then they evaluate it to see if it is compatible with Catholicism. If it isn’t, then they declare that it was “uttered in a non-binding way”. If need be, they will even make the hilarious claim that it was not binding for the very reason that it is false. This approach is entirely backwards: The true traditional Catholic way is to subject ourselves to a papal teaching, decision, or other pronouncement because it comes from the legitimate divinely-appointed teacher. Its conformity to the Faith is the result of God’s protection of the Papacy, not its condition for submission. As Pope Benedict XV said: “All know to whom the teaching authority of the Church has been given by God: he, then, possesses a perfect right to speak as he wishes and when he thinks it opportune. The duty of others is to hearken to him reverently when he speaks and to carry out what he says” (Encyclical Ad Beatissimi, n. 22).
But this the semi-trads do not do. Rather, they first decide if they agree with the (supposedly papal) teaching or not, and only if they do will they accept it. It is de facto a conforming of the “papal” teaching to one’s own beliefs, rather than the other way around. It turns Catholicism on its head and makes a mockery of the Papacy, which they have thereby reduced to being a perpetual repetition show that constantly only reiterates what everyone else already knows to be true anyway. Welcome to “traditional Catholicism” in 2018!
The term “non-binding” is also misleading, because not only does Kwasniewksi believe Francis’ errors are non-binding, he believes they are in fact forbidden to be held. Not only are they not mandatory, they are not optional either!
Aside from that, it is important to understand that binding or not binding is not the primary issue here. The primary issue is that Francis manifests day in and day out that he is not a Catholic, and as a non-Catholic he cannot be the head of the Catholic Church. This cannot be argued away on the grounds that “what he said is not binding.” One does not have to have — and intend to use — the power to bind, in order to be a heretic. On his private web site, Kwasnieski announces a lecture he will be giving in January 2019 with the title “Why Catholic Tradition is Not Optional or Incidental—Especially in the Liturgy”. Apparently it is optional, however, for the “Pope”. A curious church these people believe in!
Also, note well: We are not simply talking about “erroneous opinions” here. We are talking about all sorts of official actions and teachings (not just Francis’ but also those of his Modernist predecessors), such as, putatively, decrees of an ecumenical council, the Code of Canon Law, sacramental and liturgical rites, the canonization of saints, “papal” encyclicals and allocutions, “apostolic” exhortations and constitutions, and so forth. (And yes, this differs essentially from the case of the fourteenth-century Pope John XXII).
That nasty “Ultramontanism”
After refuting a false argument nobody makes concerning personal papal impeccability (inability to sin), Kwasniewski continues:
Needless to say, Pope Francis is now pushing the bounds of papal deviancy far beyond anything we have ever seen before – and instead of denying this crisis, theologians need to accept it as an invitation to re-think, from the very foundations, the specious ultramontanist narrative that has been operative for the past 150 years or more. It invites all Catholics to recommit themselves to the Faith of our Fathers.
Now that is an interesting theological argument, or lack thereof. It can be rephrased thus: “The facts have proven what theologians thought was the Catholic doctrine on the Papacy false, so it’s time to abandon or modify that teaching to keep up with the facts.” Perhaps our professor is unaware, but that “specious ultramontanist narrative” is the Catholic teaching on the Papacy!
This becomes clear when we research what Ultramontanism is. The most concise definition of the term is perhaps the one found in Attwater’s Catholic Dictionary:
ULTRAMONTANISM (Lat., ultra, beyond; montes, the mountains). A term invented by the Gallicans to describe the doctrines and policies which upheld the full authority of the Holy See. With the noun and adjective ultramontane it was used down to the end of the 19th century (especially at the time of the Vatican Council), and still is sometimes, usually by non-Catholic controversialists, to describe a real or supposed exaggeration of papal prerogatives and those who supported them….
(Donald Attwater, ed., A Catholic Dictionary, 3rd ed. [New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1961], s.v. “Ultramontanism”; italics and bold print given.)
A much more elaborate explanation, written by the famous Anti-Modernist Mgr. Umberto Benigni, is found in the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1912:
A term used to denote integral and active Catholicism, because it recognizes as its spiritual head the pope, who, for the greater part of Europe, is a dweller beyond the mountains (ultra montes), that is, beyond the Alps….
In a very different sense, the word once more came into use after the Protestant Reformation, which was, among other things, a triumph of that ecclesiastical particularism, based on political principles, which was formulated in the maxim: Cujus regio, ejus religio. Among the Catholic governments and peoples there gradually developed an analogous tendency to regard the papacy as a foreign power; Gallicanism and all forms of French and German regalism affected to look upon the Holy See as an alien power because it was beyond the Alpine boundaries of both the French kingdom and the German empire. This name of Ultramontane the Gallicans applied to the supporters of the Roman doctrines–whether that of the monarchical character of the pope in the government of the Church or of the infallible pontifical magisterium–inasmuch as the latter were supposed to renounce “Gallican liberties” in favour of the head of the Church who resided ultra montes. This use of the word was not altogether novel; as early as the time of Gregory VII the opponents of Henry IV in Germany had been called Ultramontanes (ultramontani). In both cases the term was intended to be opprobrious, or at least to convey the imputation of a failing in attachment to the Ultramontane’s own prince, or his country, or his national Church.
In the eighteenth century the word passed from France back to Germany, where it was adopted by the Febronians, Josephinists, and Rationalists, who called themselves Catholics, to designate the theologians and the faithful who were attached to the Holy See. Thus it acquired a much wider signification, being applicable to all Roman Catholics worthy of the name. The Revolution adopted this polemical term from the old regime: the “Divine State”, formerly personified in the prince, now found its personification in the people, becoming more “Divine” than ever as the State became more and more laic and irreligious, and, both in principle and in fact, denied any other God but itself. In presence of this new form of the old state-worship, the “Ultramontane” is the antagonist of the atheists as much as the non-Catholic believers, if not more–witness the Bismarckian Kulturkampf, of which the National Liberals rather than the orthodox Protestants were the soul. Thus the word came to be applied more especially in Germany from the earliest decades of the nineteenth century. In the frequent conflicts between Church and State the supporters of the Church’s liberty and independence as against the State are called Ultramontanes. The [First] Vatican Council naturally called forth numerous written attacks upon Ultramontanism. When the Centre was formed as a political party it was called by preference the Ultramontane party. In a few years the “Anti-Ultramontane Reichsverband” came into existence to combat the Centre and, at the same time, Catholicism as a whole.
…For Catholics it would be superfluous to ask whether Ultramontanism and Catholicism are the same thing: assuredly, those who combat Ultramontanism are in fact combating Catholicism, even when they disclaim the desire to oppose it.
(Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Ultramontanism”; italics given.)
So Ultramontanism and Catholicism are the same thing.
We see this confirmed, for example, by the Benedictine monk Dom Cuthbert Butler, who writes in his excellent book on the First Vatican Council:
A word should be said concerning the term ‘Ultramontane’, as designating what was in reality the Roman doctrine. Since the [First] Vatican Council there is no longer place for the term ‘Ultramontanism’; because that doctrine of the Papacy has, for all in communion with the Holy See, been stamped as Catholicism, much as at Nicea what had been ‘Athanasianism’ was stamped as Catholicism. But up to the Council, strictly speaking, it was not so; for the Gallican position was still permissible within the pale of the Catholic Church….
It is convenient, indeed necessary, when writing of the Vatican Council, to have some name for the school opposed to Gallicanism; and none other than Ultramontanism is to hand. The upshot of the Council was to identify the Ultramontanism of the Roman theological schools, as formulated by Bellarmine, with Catholicism, Gallicanism being ruled out.
(Dom Cuthbert Butler, The Vatican Council 1869-1870 [Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1962], p. 42)
The Novus Ordo edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia, called the New Catholic Encyclopedia, has the following on “Ultramontanism”:
A term created in the nineteenth century (jointly with its dialectic opponent Gallicanism) to describe the defenders of the Roman vision of the papacy (from the other side of the Alps) against the German or French national conception. In the Middle Ages, as papal claims to power and authority became more precise and also more extreme, they were backed by canonists and theologians from all countries who might well be called ‘‘protoultramontanes,’’ but it is only in later controversies that this designation is fully operative, as they dealt not only with ecclesiological particulars but two visions of Catholicism. This ‘‘early ultramontanism’’ represented the concern to maintain or restore a strong Catholic identity by focusing on the Roman center and developing common features susceptible to reunite and expand Christendom. Therefore, to the defense of Roman prerogatives and pyramidal ecclesiology was associated a forceful missionary program. In this perspective there is a direct continuity between post-Tridentine ‘‘Romanism’’ and nineteenth-century Ultramontanism.
After Vatican I, the concept of Ultramontanism is only analogical, for instance in the qualification of ‘integralist’ perspectives that arose during the Modernist crisis, or of oppositions to the Vatican II doctrine of collegiality [ha!].
(Thomas Carson and Joann Cerrito, eds., New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., vol. 14 [Detroit, MI: Thomson/Gale, 2003], s.v. “Ultramontanism”, pp. 283, 285)
The great 19th-century fighter against Liberalism (which was the immediate precursor to Modernism), the Spanish Fr. Felix Sarda y Salvany, wrote the following concerning Ultramontanism in his 1886 book Liberalism is a Sin, which bears the official stamp of approval and recommendation of the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation of the Index (1887), the dicastery that concerns itself with the evaluation of theological books:
To know and serve God is the only freedom, and Liberalism completely severs the bond which links man to God. With a just and rational horror does a good Catholic regard Liberalism. Ultramontanism will never cause you to lose your soul; Liberalism is a broad road to the infernal abyss.
What the greatest Catholic polemists and Saints have done is assuredly a fair example for even the humblest defenders of the Faith. Modern Ultramontanism has never yet surpassed the vigor of their castigation of heresy and heretics. Charity forbids us to do unto another what we would not reasonably have them do unto ourselves. Mark the adverb reasonably; it includes the entire substance of the question.
A well-instructed Catholic—who thoroughly comprehends the rational grounds of his faith and understands the character of Liberal tactics under our national conditions—can alone successfully cope with the enemy face-to-face. Ultramontanism is the only conquering legion in this sort of warfare. It is for the vanguard of the army to surprise the enemy at his own ambuscade, to mine against his mine and to expose him before he has burrowed under our own camp. Ultramontanism is Catholicity intact and armed cap-a-pie [from head to foot]. It is Catholicity consistent in all its parts, the logical concatenation of Catholic principles to their fullest conclusions in doctrine and practice. Hence the fierce and unholy opposition with which it is constantly assailed. The foe well knows that to rout the vanguard is to demoralize the entire army; hence their rage and fury against the invincible phalanx which always stands fully armed, sleeplessly vigilant and eternally uncompromising.
This clarifies things quite a bit, doesn’t it?
A good rule of thumb is perhaps this: Whenever you hear someone denounce “Ultramontanism,” you can be sure you are talking to a Gallican or a Liberal/Modernist. For more background and in-depth information on this topic, please consult our post:
The “Easy Answer” of Sedevacantism
Kwasniewski continues his critique of Sedevacantism:
The basic problem with sedevacantism is that it is a “tidy” explanation that does not actually admit the depth of the problem – and also has no solution for it. What I mean by the first part of this claim is that it is easier for a sedevacantist to dismiss sixty years of “bad popes” measured against a Platonic standard than to face up to the horrifying reality of a true pope who is nevertheless a heretic or a bad man. What I mean by the second part is this: If there haven’t been popes for decades, how are we ever supposed to get a new pope? Will he drop from the sky? None of the cardinals would be legitimate cardinal-electors; indeed, the entire hierarchy of the Church would be fatally compromised.
Ah yes, the problem of the “tidy” explanation. Others call it the “easy answer.” Except that it is not easy at all (and if it were, how would that make it wrong?) because — as Kwasniewski himself rushes to point out — it opens a lot of questions that have no clear answer. We submit that it is precisely because it is not “tidy” but quite messy that many do not want anything to do with Sedevacantism. But the situation is what it is: Sedevacantism is messy not because there is some theological problem with it but because 60 years without a Pope necessarily leave a mess, especially when those who have usurped the Catholic structures have created nothing but chaos and confusion.
Here Faith is needed, the Faith without which no one can please God (see Heb 11:6). Kwasniewski, however, does not want to take this route. We therefore challenge him once again to embrace himself that “gritty realism” he recommends to others.
In all this great confusion we are suffering, it stands to reason that we cannot prefer having a clear answer to having no answer if the clear answer is false. Talk about a “tidy solution”! Here we can see that it is Kwasniewski who wants to have the clean and simple answer, not us Sedevacantists. We are content to believe without seeing (cf. Jn 20:29; 2 Cor 5:7), content with the promises of Christ regarding the Papacy, regardless of whether we have a neat and tidy answer to every question or objection. Christ did not, we must recall, promise that we would always have a Pope, He only promised that when we have a Pope, this Pope will be a Catholic, and more than just a Catholic — in the words of Pope Leo XIII, he will be “the strong and effective instrument of salvation” (Allocution of Feb. 20, 1903; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, n. 653).
If Kwasniewski thinks that the gates of hell being unable to prevail (see Mt 16:18) means that any heretic can be a valid Pope, then he has not grasped at all how the Church understands this promise of our Blessed Lord. We can help out:
Kwasniewski is concerned, and rightly so, about how we could once again have a true Pope if the Sedevacantists are right. The “tidiest” answer for this is probably the material/formal theory mentioned at the beginning, according to which the Novus Ordo cardinals, although they are not members of the Church, possess the ability to designate a Pope. That is, although they are not valid cardinals, they are nevertheless valid electors, and if they were to elect a Catholic, that man would be the true Pope.
This is not the place to explain at length or evaluate this position, for which there exists considerable philosophical and theological support. People who are interested in learning more about it should consult these resources:
- The Problem of Authority in the Post-Conciliar Church: The Cassiciacum Thesis
- Explanation of the Thesis of Bp. Guerard des Lauriers
- The Material Papacy: On the Cassiciacum Thesis
It must be emphasized that this thesis originates with a genuine Roman Catholic theologian who used to teach at a Pontifical University in Rome. We are talking about the exceptionally gifted Dominican Fr. (later Bp.) Michel-Louis Guerard des Lauriers.
In any case, whether we can “tidily” solve the question of how to have a new Pope elected one day or not, this has no bearing on what we know to be true, namely: Jorge Bergoglio is not the Pope, and neither are his Novus Ordo predecessors, because they cannot possibly be. They cannot be because they have done things which, if a true Pope had done them, would have made the promises of Christ for the Papacy void. Among these things we can enumerate the introduction of harmful, heretical, or invalid sacramental rites; doctrine and pastoral practice that contradicts the Faith and other established Catholic teaching; disciplinary law that is in itself harmful to souls; the canonization of “saints” who were public sinners or are otherwise unworthy candidates for Catholic sainthood; and so forth.
How, then, can Kwasniewski and other semi-trads be so generous in their acceptance of Francis’ claim to the Papacy and that of his five predecessors? Simple: When push comes to shove, these people simply refuse submission to their “Vicar of Christ.” That’s why we also call them recognize-and-resist traditionalists. Recognize someone as Pope but resist everything from him you deem necessary, lest you be tainted by his religion, which would imperil your soul. This is theological lunacy! The semi-trads effectively propose schism as the answer to a heretical or otherwise impossible “Pope.” What a dangerous and blasphemous idea!
We saw this principle in action just a few weeks ago, when Kwasniewski wrote an article entitled “Why We Need Not (and Should Not) Call Paul VI ‘Saint’”. Think about this for a minute. The supposed Vicar of Christ declares (in Latin)…
For the honour of the Blessed Trinity, the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the increase of the Christian life, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own, after due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brother Bishops, we declare and define Blessed Paul VI, Oscar Arnulfo Romero Galdámez, Francis Spinelli, Vincent Romano, Mary Catherine Kasper, Nazaria Ignacia of Saint Teresa of Jesus March Mesa and Nunzio Sulprizio to be Saints and we enroll them among the Saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole Church. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
(“Formula for Canonization”, in Santa Messa celebrata dal Santo Padre Francesco con il Rito della Canonizzazione, Oct. 14, 2018, p. 42)
…And then a former college theology professor comes along and says: “No, it is not so! That Paul VI guy is no saint! No one should believe that he is! No one may venerate him!” In other words: The Pope speaks, but you decide! And this is supposed to be how God guarantees that the gates of hell won’t prevail against the Papacy?
The Papacy and Visibility
Kwasniewski then begins to wrap things up:
No, the truth is that we have a pope and will always have a pope. The Church will never fail to have a visible head, so that the visible Church may reflect the full stature of Christ, who is made up of head and members.
Here the author leaves out of consideration the fact that visibility alone is not enough. As sedevacantist Bp. Donald Sanborn once said: “A pile of dung is plenty visible, but it is not the Catholic Church.” A visible head who is not a Catholic gives you nothing. As Pope Innocent III declared: “By the heart we believe and by the mouth we confess the one Church, not of heretics but the Holy Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic (Church) outside which we believe that no one is saved” (Apostolic Letter Eius Exemplo; Denz. 423; italics added). And as Pope Pius IX proclaimed: “…in that Church truth must always continue firm and ever inaccessible to all change, as a deposit given to that Church to be guarded in its integrity, for the guardianship of which the presence and aid of the Holy Ghost have been promised to the Church for ever” (Apostolic Letter Iam Vos Omnes).
A church which does not fit this description cannot be the Catholic Church, regardless of whether we do not know how we will once again get a true Pope.
Concerning the issue of visibility and the Papacy, a 1967 article penned by Cardinal Giuseppe Siri of Genoa (1906-1989) is highly insightful. Siri — rumored to have been elected the real Pope (“Gregory XVII”) in 1958, two days prior to Angelo Roncalli — published an essay in Renovatio, a theological journal he himself had founded. The topic of the article was the “rock” of Matthew 16:18 (“And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”). The remarks made by His Eminence are somewhat cryptic but, we think, quite explosive:
This rock will never crumble, nor flake, given that its solidity is guaranteed in the text of Matthew until the end of time. The rock remains and no one will scratch it, implicated as she [the Church] is in a divine undertaking. But on occasion some men may take from others the vision of the rock. Other things may be made to seem like the rock, other things that may appear to all as such. The distinction is a profound one — even if the errors of these men are capable of veiling the reality, they cannot destroy it. The question, easy for all, that presents itself is one of the visibility of the rock. If then situations should occur that take from certain men the visibility of the rock in the Church, the consequences would be grave.
(Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, “La Roccia”, Renovatio, vol. 2, no. 2 , pp. 183-184; our translation; underlining added. Reprinted in Giuseppe Siri, Il Dovere dell’Ortodossia [Pisa: Giardini Editori, 1987], p. 6.)
Was the Cardinal-Archbishop of Genoa trying to tell us something? He had been, after all, inside the Conclave of 1958, from which Cardinal Francis Spellman emerged “looking white and shaken” (source), and to which the eclipse of the Church and the Modernist revolution can be traced back. This is the conclave from which white smoke emerged first on Oct. 26, when Vatican Radio joyfully announced: “There can be absolutely no doubt. A Pope has been elected.” Unfortunately, no Pope appeared, and two days later Angelo Roncalli presented himself to the world as “Pope John XXIII”, and that is when the entire mess that we know today as the Novus Ordo religion began.
That Cardinal Siri, of all people, should write about the rock of the Papacy as being always intrinsically visible but possibly obscured or blocked from view by others, by entities that are themselves counterfeit rocks, is noteworthy to say the least.
But we must return to Dr. Kwasniewski’s piece. His final major paragraph reads thus:
I shall be blunt about this: If the Catholic Church has not had a pope for 60 years, then the promises of Christ have failed, and this Church is not the true Church. Moreover, if the Catholic Church is not the true Church, there is no true Church, since no other institution has nearly as good a claim on this title (and I include in this assessment the Eastern Orthodox). Since we know, as a matter of divine and Catholic faith, that the Church cannot be merely invisible and cannot be lacking an earthly head who is the image of the heavenly head and the successor of Peter in the college of the Apostles, we should have no difficulty as baptized members of Christ confessing that we have a pope and will always have a pope—namely, the one who is recognized and acknowledged as such by the worldwide episcopate and the body of the faithful in genere.
Kwasniewski has it exactly backwards. As noted earlier, Christ didn’t promise there would always be a Pope, no matter how bad of a heretic — and what would that accomplish, anyway? — but that the Holy Catholic Church will always be the ark of salvation, the Immaculate Bride of Christ; and that the Roman Pontificate in particular will always be “the strong and effective instrument of salvation”, as Leo XIII taught.
It is precisely in the fact that Jorge Bergoglio and the other papal pretenders are not true Popes that we see Christ’s protection of the Church vindicated and fulfilled. It is precisely because the Vatican II Sect is not the Catholic Church that we can affirm what Catholic teaching requires us to affirm concerning the Church and especially concerning the Holy See:
This chair [of Peter] is the center of Catholic truth and unity, that is, the head, mother, and teacher of all the Churches to which all honor and obedience must be offered. Every church must agree with it because of its greater preeminence — that is, those people who are in all respects faithful….
Now you know well that the most deadly foes of the Catholic religion have always waged a fierce war, but without success, against this Chair; they are by no means ignorant of the fact that religion itself can never totter and fall while this Chair remains intact, the Chair which rests on the rock which the proud gates of hell cannot overthrow and in which there is the whole and perfect solidity of the Christian religion. Therefore, because of your special faith in the Church and special piety toward the same Chair of Peter, We exhort you to direct your constant efforts so that the faithful people of France may avoid the crafty deceptions and errors of these plotters and develop a more filial affection and obedience to this Apostolic See. Be vigilant in act and word, so that the faithful may grow in love for this Holy See, venerate it, and accept it with complete obedience; they should execute whatever the See itself teaches, determines, and decrees.
(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Inter Multiplices, nn. 1,7; underlining added.)
Nor will We permit anything against the sanctity of the oath by which We were bound when, however undeservingly, We ascended the supreme seat of the prince of the apostles, the citadel and bulwark of the Catholic faith.
(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Qui Nuper, n. 3; underlining added.)
For the fathers of the fourth council of Constantinople, adhering to the ways of the former ones, published this solemn profession: “Our first salvation is to guard the rule of right faith [. . .]. And since the sentiment of our Lord Jesus Christ cannot be passed over when He says: ‘Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church’ [Matt. 16:18], these words which were spoken are proven true by actual results, since in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been preserved untainted, and holy doctrine celebrated. Desiring, then, least of all to be separated from the faith and teaching of this [Apostolic See], We hope that We may deserve to be in the one communion which the Apostolic See proclaims, in which the solidarity of the Christian religion is whole and true“…
(Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 4; Denz. 1833; underlining added.)
From this text [Mt 16:18] it is clear that by the will and command of God the Church rests upon St. Peter, just as a building rests on its foundation. Now the proper nature of a foundation is to be a principle of cohesion for the various parts of the building. It must be the necessary condition of stability and strength. Remove it and the whole building falls. It is consequently the office of St. Peter to support the Church, and to guard it in all its strength and indestructible unity. How could he fulfil this office without the power of commanding, forbidding, and judging, which is properly called jurisdiction? It is only by this power of jurisdiction that nations and commonwealths are held together. A primacy of honour and the shadowy right of giving advice and admonition, which is called direction, could never secure to any society of men unity or strength. The words – and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it proclaim and establish the authority of which we speak. “What is the it?” (writes Origen). “Is it the rock upon which Christ builds the Church or the Church? The expression indeed is ambiguous, as if the rock and the Church were one and the same. I indeed think that this is so, and that neither against the rock upon which Christ builds His Church nor against the Church shall the gates of Hell prevail” (Origenes, Comment. in Matt., tom. xii., n. ii). The meaning of this divine utterance is, that, notwithstanding the wiles and intrigues which they bring to bear against the Church, it can never be that the church committed to the care of Peter shall succumb or in any wise fail. “For the Church, as the edifice of Christ who has wisely built ‘His house upon a rock,’ cannot be conquered by the gates of Hell, which may prevail over any man who shall be off the rock and outside the Church, but shall be powerless against it” (Ibid.). Therefore God confided His Church to Peter so that he might safely guard it with his unconquerable power. He invested him, therefore, with the needful authority; since the right to rule is absolutely required by him who has to guard human society really and effectively….
Union with the Roman See of Peter is … always the public criterion of a Catholic …. “You are not to be looked upon as holding the true Catholic faith if you do not teach that the faith of Rome is to be held.”
(Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Satis Cognitum, nn. 12-13; underlining added.)
There are so many more magisterial texts we could quote here. For a more substantial (but by no means exhaustive) list, we direct our readers’ attention to our little collection here:
When it comes to sorting out the mess we have been in since the death of Pope Pius XII, we must differentiate very strictly between what is definitely impossible and what is merely odd, confusing, unanswered, difficult, or improbable. Keep in mind that the difference between what is truly impossible and what is mere improbable or otherwise difficult is infinite.
If Jorge Bergoglio is Pope, and if the Vatican II Church, which proves itself to be a veritable ark of damnation day in and day out, is the Catholic Church, then — and only then — have Christ’s promises been made void.
Think about it: How does saying that the Novus Ordo apostasy has been perpetrated by real Catholic Popes do anything to save the Papacy or the Church? How does that vindicate the promise of Christ that the gates of hell shall not prevail? Shall we seriously assert that the divine protection of the Papacy has been upheld because the “Popes” who caused all this soul-destroying havoc were visible? Heaven forbid we should conclude that “an enemy hath done this” (Mt 13:28)!
An extended interregnum such as we have had to endure, although highly burdensome for souls, is not ruled out by Christ’s promises. This fact was beautifully expressed by the Jesuit Fr. Edmund James O’Reilly in his 1892 book The Relations of the Church to Society:
The great schism of the West suggests to me a reflection which I take the liberty of expressing here. If this schism had not occurred, the hypothesis of such a thing happening would appear to many chimerical. They would say it could not be; God would not permit the Church to come into so unhappy a situation. Heresies might spring up and spread and last painfully long, through the fault and to the perdition of their authors and abettors, to the great distress too of the faithful, increased by actual persecution in many places where the heretics were dominant. But that the true Church should remain between thirty and forty years without a thoroughly ascertained Head, and representative of Christ on earth, this would not be. Yet it has been; and we have no guarantee that it will not be again, though we may fervently hope otherwise. What I would infer is, that we must not be too ready to pronounce on what God may permit. We know with absolute certainty that He will fulfil His promises; not allow anything to occur at variance with them; that He will sustain His Church and enable her to triumph over all enemies and difficulties; that He will give to each of the faithful those graces which are needed for each one’s service of Him and attainment of salvation, as He did during the great schism we have been considering, and in all the sufferings and trials which the Church has passed through from the beginning. We may also trust He will do a great deal more than what He has bound Himself to by His promises. We may look forward with a cheering probability to exemption for the future from some of the troubles and misfortunes that have befallen in the past. But we, or our successors in future generations of Christians, shall perhaps see stranger evils than have yet been experienced, even before the immediate approach of that great winding up of all things on earth that will precede the day of judgment. I am not setting up for a prophet, nor pretending to see unhappy wonders, of which I have no knowledge whatever. All I mean to convey is that contingencies regarding the Church, not excluded by the Divine promises, cannot be regarded as practically impossible, just because they would be terrible and distressing in a very high degree.
Writing at the end of the 19th century, Fr. O’Reilly can hardly be accused of a bias in favor of Sedevacantism.
In choosing to believe that the Vatican II Church is not the Catholic Church, we are merely adhering to what is possible, and we are doing so in order to keep from believing what we know is impossible: that the Catholic Church should defect and suddenly turn from her divine mission and become the occasion of people’s spiritual ruin, when we know she is rather the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15).
To put it in more apocalyptic terms: That the Whore of Babylon should eclipse the Bride of Christ for a while and a series of false popes should emerge to mislead the faithful in punishment of their sins (cf. 2 Thess 2:10), such is possible. But that the Bride of Christ should turn into the Whore of Babylon and mislead the faithful, such is impossible. With St. Paul we can ask rhetorically: “Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid” (1 Cor 6:15; cf. 2 Cor 6:14-16; 1 Tim 3:15).
In fact, a vacancy of the Apostolic See has been prophesied in Sacred Scripture as preceding the reign of Antichrist, as Fr. Sylvester Berry explains in his 1921 book on the Apocalypse of St. John:
The beast arising from the earth is a false prophet — the prophet of Antichrist. Our divine Saviour has a representative on earth in the person of the Pope upon whom He has conferred full powers to teach and govern. Likewise Antichrist will have his representative in the false prophet who will be endowed with the plenitude of satanic powers to deceive the nations.
If Antichrist be of Jewish extraction, as he probably will, the sea from which he arises signifies Judaism. Then the earth whence comes the second beast is a symbol of the Gentile nations in revolt against the Church. The two horns denote a twofold authority — spiritual and temporal. As indicated by the resemblance to a lamb, the [false] prophet will probably set himself up in Rome as a sort of antipope during the vacancy of the papal throne mentioned above. But the elect will not allow themselves to be deceived; they will recall the words of our Lord: “Then if any man shall say to you: Lo here is Christ, or there, do not believe him.”
Regarding Fr. Berry’s “vacancy of the papal throne mentioned above” remark, that is a reference to his commentary on Chapter 12 of the Apocalypse, highlights of which we have featured here. We have also put together a video clip about it that you can share with friends and family to make them aware of what is going on:
In these difficult times, in which so many good-willed people are struggling to be authentic Roman Catholics, we can take comfort in the fact that the vacancy of the Apostolic See and its usurpation by “a sort of antipope” is not a crazy idea concocted by a few whacky Sedevacantists but is in fact part and parcel of what God’s revelation for the end times contains.
In other words: The distressing situation the true Church is in today is not some unforeseen situation that has suddenly thwarted God’s designs; rather, it has been part of God’s very Will from all eternity. Just as our Blessed Lord’s Passion was not, despite initial appearances, an obstruction of the divine plan but its very fulfillment, so the frightening days Christ’s Mystical Body has suffered through since the death of Pope Pius XII are likewise the fulfillment of God’s Will, in agreement with what He has revealed to us.
Christ warned us that He would permit the masses to be deceived by an “operation of error” (2 Thess 2:10) so tremendous that “even the elect” would be deceived if He did not prevent it (see Mt 24:24) — a deception complete with “false apostles … deceitful workmen, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ” (2 Cor 11:13) and “them that say they are Jews and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan” (Apoc 2:9).
We have to keep in mind that per Catholic teaching and biblical prophecy (and even approved private revelations), during the persecution of the Church in the latter days, the Pope is always the solution, never the problem. He is described as the one persecuted, not the one doing the persecuting. He is the one who has much to suffer, not the one who inflicts much suffering. He is the one who guarantees the Church remains faithful, not the one who misleads the sheep.
Kwasniewski’s Unreliable Theology
Peter Kwasniewski seems to be enjoying great popularity on the internet at the moment, but readers have good reason to be wary of his theology, and not just regarding Sedevacantism. A few months ago, when the big story was Francis’ change of the Novus Ordo Catechism concerning the death penalty, Life Site published an article by Kwasniewski entitled “Pope’s change to Catechism is not just a prudential judgment, but a rejection of dogma” (Aug. 3, 2018).
In the original version (cached here) of this piece, the former theology professor claimed: “…a baptized Christian always retains the dignity of being a child of God, for this is rooted in the sacramental character indelibly marked on the essence of the soul….” This is not only a serious error, it is heresy. The status of being a child of God is tied to the possession of sanctifying grace (which he agrees can be lost), not to the possession of the indelible sacramental character.
Traditional Catholic theology is clear on this:
The just man … is a child of God merely by the possession of sanctifying grace, which can be lost by mortal sin and consequently is founded upon a free relation that may be terminated by man as freely as it was entered into between himself and God.
(Mgr. Joseph Pohle, Dogmatic Theology, vol. 7, pp. 358-359)
Besides forgiving sin and producing sanctifying grace, with all its formal effects — justice, supernatural beauty, the friendship of God, and His adoptive sonship — Baptism also effects the supernatural concomitants of sanctifying grace….
(Mgr. Joseph Pohle, Dogmatic Theology, vol. 8, p. 229)
Another effect of baptism is the infusion of sanctifying grace and supernatural gifts and virtues. It is this sanctifying grace which renders men the adopted sons of God and confers the right to heavenly glory.
(Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Baptism”)
But since all mortal sins, even those of thought, make men children of wrath [Eph. 2:3] and enemies of God, it is necessary to ask pardon for all of them from God by an open and humble confession.
(Council of Trent, Session 13, Ch. 5; Denz. 899)
For the Spirit himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God. And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.
Kwasniewski later corrected his error and revised his essay accordingly. The second version (available here) now reads thus: “…a baptized person is forever a Christian, distinguished from the non-baptized by the sacramental character indelibly marked on the essence of his soul; but a Christian enjoys the further dignity of being an adopted son of God so long as he is in a state of sanctifying grace.”
Although this no longer repeats the heresy found in the first version, the revision itself contains a serious error: The author’s assertion that “a baptized person is forever a Christian” is false. Although the character of baptism is indeed indelible, and hence baptism cannot and need not ever be repeated once it has been validly received, a baptized person ceases to be a Christian if he refuses/ceases to be faithful (that is, if he becomes a heretic or an apostate) or if he refuses/ceases to be in communion with the Pope or the other members of the Church (that is, if he becomes a schismatic). Such people are still subjects of the Church but they are no longer her members. They are no longer part of the Body of Christ; they are no longer Christians, for they are automatically expelled from that Church which alone is “the Society of Christians” (Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis, n. 63).
The idea that one who is baptized forever remains a Christian is a common error in Novus Ordo circles, for it is the basis upon which the Second Vatican Council has established its whole ecumenical program of “partial communion” among the baptized, regardless of whether they are heretics, schismatics, or apostates (see Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, n. 15; Decree Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 3).
In the Catholic Church, however, this is not so:
Heretics and schismatics are excluded from the Church, because they have separated from her and belong to her only as deserters belong to the army from which they have deserted. It is not, however, to be denied that they are still subject to the jurisdiction of the Church, inasmuch as they may be called before her tribunals, punished and anathematised.
(Catechism of the Council of Trent, Article IX)
The spiritual character imprinted upon the soul in Baptism [alone] does not make one a member of the Church; it is rather a sign or badge showing that he has received the rites of initiation, but it does not prove that he retains membership. This may be illustrated by the case of a person receiving a tattoo mark as a sign of initiation into a society that uses such marking. If the person afterward leave the society, he would cease to be a member, though he still bore the indelible sign of his initiation.
(Rev. Sylvester Berry, The Church of Christ [Baltimore, MD: Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, 1955], p. 129)
Thus, merely possessing the baptismal character does not make one a Christian, unless one were to widen and water down the definition of “Christian” to such an extent that it becomes practically meaningless, synonymous with simply possessing the baptismal character, which even a Satanist can have.
This is not the only topic Kwasniewski has shown himself unreliable on. Another example is his Aug. 6 article on the “papal lapses” found in history. As we showed in our thorough refutation, although there have no doubt been personal moral lapses on the part of Popes, they have never lapsed in the exercise of their office in terms of the Faith, in accordance with Christ’s promise to St. Peter: “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren” (Lk 22:32).
In the Vatican II Church, the blind are leading the blind: “Let them alone: they are blind, and leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit” (Mt 15:14). Good intentions and personal piety cannot make up for an objective departure from the True Faith and the corresponding danger to souls. Tragically, Dr. Kwasniewski is simply one more Novus Ordo pundit who unwittingly leads those who follow him “into the pit.”
Image source: peterkwasniewski.com
License: Fair use