Real Catholic teaching vs. semi-trad sophistry…
Would God permit a Non-Catholic Pope?
Response to Peter Kwasniewski
As we’ve pointed out before, Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, a former college theology professor now working as a freelance writer and lecturer, has become one of the preferred go-to guys for the semi-trads and conservative Novus Ordos when it comes to making the case for accepting Francis as Pope but refusing to accept practically anything he believes or teaches. Never mind supplying evidence for such a silly and absurd position — what counts is only the reiteration of the desired pre-conceived conclusion that it be so.
By saying Francis is Pope but then refusing his magisterium, the would-be traditionalists in the Vatican II Church are doing untold damage to the traditional Catholic doctrine of the Papacy because the papal office was instituted as the sure norm of orthodoxy at every point in time in Church history, guaranteed by Christ Himself. This does not mean that every papal magisterial act is infallible, but it does mean that every papal magisterial act is authoritative, thus binding on consciences and, by the providence of Almighty God, always safe to follow. This means that souls cannot be led astray by any pernicious error if they follow the teaching of the Pope. That safety is guaranteed and caused by Christ Himself.
Don’t take our word for it — it is simply the general Catholic teaching from before Vatican II, one you will not find in any literature of the recognize-and-resist “traditional Catholics”, however. The following quote is taken from Cardinal Johann Franzelin in a book printed by the Holy See’s own publisher:
The Holy Apostolic See, to which the safeguarding of the deposit of faith and the attendant duty and office of feeding the universal Church for the salvation of souls have been divinely entrusted, can prescribe theological pronouncements — or even pronouncements to the extent they are connected with ones that are theological — as teachings to be followed, or it can censure them as teachings not to be followed, not solely with the intention of infallibly determining truth by a definitive pronouncement, but also necessarily and designedly apart from that aim, either without qualification or by way of limited supplements, to provide for the safety of Catholic doctrine (cf. Zaccaria, Antifebronius vindicatus, vol. II, diss. V, chap. 2, no. 1). Although infallible truth of doctrine may not be present in declarations of this kind (because, presumably, the intention of determining infallible truth is not present), nevertheless, infallible safety is present. I speak of both the objective safety of declared doctrine (either without qualification or by way of limited supplements, as mentioned) and the subjective safety of declared doctrine, insofar as it is safe for everyone to adopt it, and it is unsafe and impossible for anyone to refuse to adopt it without a violation of due submission towards the divinely established magisterium.
(Cardinal John Baptist Franzelin, Tractatus de Divina Traditione et Scriptura, 2nd ed. [Rome: Ex Typ. S.C. de Propaganda Fide, 1875], Thesis XII, Principle VII; our translation; italics removed; underlining added. The entire work is available in English, translated by Ryan Grant, as On Divine Tradition [Sensus Traditionis Press, 2016].)
This is the age-old belief of Catholics about the Papacy, something today’s “traditionalists” in the Novus Ordo Church will have none of because it conflicts with their dearly held belief that it just “cannot be” that Francis (or any of his Modernist predecessors) are not true Popes. Thus they prefer a failed papacy — which is a clear contradiction of Catholic dogma and therefore an intrinsic impossibility — over a vacant papacy, for reasons that will have to remain one of the greatest mysteries of humanity. In other words: They would rather have a Pope to refuse submission to, than not have a Pope to render submission to. What a crazy mess they have created for themselves!
We have provided powerful rebuttals to Peter Kwasniewski’s popular but erroneous argumentation in the past:
- Peter Kwasniewski and “the Troubles of this Pontificate”: A Sedevacantist Reply
- The Limits to Invoking “Papal Lapses” as a Justification for the Recognize-and-Resist Position
We will now provide a third one.
On Life Site, Kwasniewski published today a fairly short post entitled, “Would God permit a Bad Pope?” The headline itself is already misleading, since with Francis there is not the mere question of a morally bad Pope — which thing is certainly possible and has happened time and time again — but the question of a non-Catholic Pope, something that is, of course, dogmatically impossible, as even Kwasniewski concedes later on at least to an extent.
The former college professor begins his post as follows:
The “indefectibility” of the Church means that the hierarchy and the faithful, and thus, the sacramental and social life of the Church, will always remain intact somewhere. We know that it cannot mean everywhere, otherwise the fall of north Africa to the Moslems, or the schism of half of Europe during the Protestant revolt, would never have been possible. We know that it cannot be nowhere, as if the Church would disappear into an invisible ideal to be rediscovered later—as Protestants often believe about the Church from about 300 to 1500 AD.
It would have been great if the author could have actually quoted some Church teaching in support of his assertions, rather than just asking everyone to take what he says as the Gospel truth simply because he says it, but even that seems to be too much to ask.
The indefectibility of the Church means that the Catholic Church will remain until the end of time in exactly the same essential constitution as Jesus Christ established her. This means she will forever be the safe guide for all who wish to follow Jesus Christ and save their souls; she will always be the only Ark of Salvation, the dispenser of the mysteries of God (cf. 2 Cor 5:20; Eph 3:10); until the end of time she will be the source of truth and holiness (see 1 Tim 3:15), above all in the See of Rome. This is so because, while all other sees can fail, the See of Rome alone cannot fail, for its bishop is the successor of St. Peter, who received the divine promises that he would be the Rock with the unshakable Faith, in virtue of which the gates of hell will be kept at bay (see Mt 16:18) — any personal failings of the man who fills the papal office at any given point, notwithstanding:
All who defend the faith should aim to implant deeply in your faithful people the virtues of piety, veneration, and respect for this supreme See of Peter. Let the faithful recall the fact that Peter, Prince of Apostles is alive here and rules in his successors, and that his office does not fail even in an unworthy heir. Let them recall that Christ the Lord placed the impregnable foundation of his Church on this See of Peter [Mt 16:18] and gave to Peter himself the keys of the kingdom of Heaven [Mt 16:19]. Christ then prayed that his faith would not fail, and commanded Peter to strengthen his brothers in the faith [Lk 22:32]. Consequently the successor of Peter, the Roman Pontiff, holds a primacy over the whole world and is the true Vicar of Christ, head of the whole Church and father and teacher of all Christians.
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, nn. 16-17)
This chair [of Peter] is the center of Catholic truth and unity, that is, the head, mother, and teacher of all the Churches to which all honor and obedience must be offered. Every church must agree with it because of its greater preeminence — that is, those people who are in all respects faithful….
Now you know well that the most deadly foes of the Catholic religion have always waged a fierce war, but without success, against this Chair; they are by no means ignorant of the fact that religion itself can never totter and fall while this Chair remains intact, the Chair which rests on the rock which the proud gates of hell cannot overthrow and in which there is the whole and perfect solidity of the Christian religion. Therefore, because of your special faith in the Church and special piety toward the same Chair of Peter, We exhort you to direct your constant efforts so that the faithful people of France may avoid the crafty deceptions and errors of these plotters and develop a more filial affection and obedience to this Apostolic See. Be vigilant in act and word, so that the faithful may grow in love for this Holy See, venerate it, and accept it with complete obedience; they should execute whatever the See itself teaches, determines, and decrees.
(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Inter Multiplices, nn. 1,7)
Nor 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)
In defining the limits of the obedience owed to the pastors of souls, but most of all to the authority of the Roman Pontiff, it must not be supposed that it is only to be yielded in relation to dogmas of which the obstinate denial cannot be disjoined from the crime of heresy. Nay, further, it is not enough sincerely and firmly to assent to doctrines which, though not defined by any solemn pronouncement of the Church, are by her proposed to belief, as divinely revealed, in her common and universal teaching, and which the [First] Vatican Council declared are to be believed “with Catholic and divine faith.” But this likewise must be reckoned amongst the duties of Christians, that they allow themselves to be ruled and directed by the authority and leadership of bishops, and, above all, of the Apostolic See.
And how fitting it is that this should be so any one can easily perceive. For the things contained in the divine oracles have reference to God in part, and in part to man, and to whatever is necessary for the attainment of his eternal salvation. Now, both these, that is to say, what we are bound to believe and what we are obliged to do, are laid down, as we have stated, by the Church using her divine right, and in the Church by the supreme Pontiff.
Wherefore it belongs to the Pope to judge authoritatively what things the sacred oracles contain, as well as what doctrines are in harmony, and what in disagreement, with them; and also, for the same reason, to show forth what things are to be accepted as right, and what to be rejected as worthless; what it is necessary to do and what to avoid doing, in order to attain eternal salvation. For, otherwise, there would be no sure interpreter of the commands of God, nor would there be any safe guide showing man the way he should live.
(Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Sapientiae Christianae, n. 24)
The Catholic teaching is clear, sensible, and beautiful.
Returning now to Dr. K.:
About a week ago, the Church celebrated the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, when we recall Our Lord’s bestowal of the keys of the kingdom on the Prince of the Apostles and the establishment of the latter’s episcopal seat in the city of Rome. It is a salutary annual reminder to us both that the Church is founded on the rock of St. Peter, a visible head, and that the essence of this rock is Peter’s faith in the Divine Redeemer, whose Passion for the sake of the truth He must make His own, in order to be worthy of the great office conferred on him, and to execute its responsibilities well.
My goodness, Kwasniewski can’t even get the simplest of things right. The great Petrine feast the Church celebrated “about a week ago” was the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter at Antioch (Feb. 22), which commemorates the founding of St. Peter’s first diocese (Antioch), before he went to Rome and established the see with the papal primacy there. What Kwasniewski has in mind instead is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter at Rome, which is celebrated on Jan. 18. [UPDATE: An observant reader pointed out to us that in 1962, Angelo Roncalli (“Pope” John XXIII) updated the liturgical calendar to merge the two feasts of the Chair of St. Peter. Since the semi-trads of the Kwasniewski stripe accept Roncalli as a true Pope, they follow his calendar. We apologize to Dr. Kwasniewski for the misguided accusation on that particular point. Given his track record of shoddy theology, however, we had every right to be suspicious.]
The Petrine Chair at Rome is the Chair of Unity and the Chair of Truth, as the Popes have taught since time immemorial. For example, Pope Leo XIII, quoting St. Cyprian, pointed out that it is “the chair of Peter … whence sacerdotal unity has its source” (Encyclical Satis Cognitum, n. 13), and Pope Pius XI referred to “this supreme Chair of Truth” (Encyclical Lux Veritatis, n. 36).
Next, Kwasniewski audaciously attempts a reinterpretation of Matthew 16:18:
Matthew 16:18—“thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”—has a long exegetical history. St. Augustine took “rock” to mean the faith of Peter and therefore the faith of the Church. St. Thomas Aquinas argued that it was both Peter’s act of faith, which every Christian can emulate, and Peter’s position of authority, which he alone receives.
In the Counter-Reformation period, the application of Matthew 16:18 to the papacy was obviously foremost in the Catholic mind, but the whole context of Matthew 16 shows that what Jesus is praising is Peter’s confession of faith in His divinity and messianic mission; this is the foundation of the Church, not a man or even an office, abstractly considered. The fundamental duty of the pope is to continue to confess Christ the Son of God by upholding the true Faith in all of its dogmatic and moral teachings—in other words, to ensure that the Gospel remains intact, undiluted, uncorrupted, unhidden. This already begins to tell us much about what’s problematic with the current successor of St. Peter.
We say “audaciously” because it’s not like after 1900 years we still don’t quite know how the Church understands this Scriptural text and what its dogmatic consequences are. Why didn’t Dr. K. consult the First Vatican Council (1869-70), the one ecumenical council that concerned itself with the Papacy more than any other, regarding the Church’s understanding of Mt 16:18? In fact, once again he decided not to provide any references to back up his claims. Why is that?
Alternatively, he could have quoted Pope St. Leo IX to interpret Mt 16:18 for us:
The holy Church built upon a rock, that is Christ, and upon Peter or Cephas, the son of John who first was called Simon, because by the gates of Hell, that is, by the disputations of heretics which lead the vain to destruction, it would never be overcome; thus Truth itself promises, through whom are true, whatsoever things are true: “The gates of hell will not prevail against it” [Mt 16:18]. The same Son declares that He obtained the effect of this promise from the Father by prayers, by saying to Peter: “Simon, behold Satan etc.” [Lk 23:31]. Therefore, will there be anyone so foolish as to dare to regard His prayer as in anyway vain whose being willing is being able? By the See of the chief of the Apostles, namely by the Roman Church, through the same Peter, as well as through his successors, have not the comments of all the heretics been disapproved, rejected, and overcome, and the hearts of the brethren in the faith of Peter which so far neither has failed, nor up to the end will fail, been strengthened?
(Pope Leo IX, Apostolic Letter In Terra Pax; Denz. 351)
Kwasniewski’s claim that the Church was not founded on “a man or even an office” is an outrageous denial of truth that appears to rise to the level of heresy. His caveat “abstractly considered” is not very effective since he does not elaborate on what he means by it. But it is easy to see why the author chooses this route of reinterpreting the Papacy — since he’s obviously unable to square the empirical facts about Jorge Bergoglio (“Pope Francis”) with the true Catholic teaching on the papal office. In other words: One of the two has got to go, and Kwasniewski chose to dispose of the Papacy rather than of Bergoglio.
The former theology professor continues his attack on the Catholic position by talking about the duty of the Pope: “…to continue to confess Christ the Son of God by upholding the true Faith in all of its dogmatic and moral teachings—in other words, to ensure that the Gospel remains intact, undiluted, uncorrupted, unhidden.” This is true as far as it goes, but what Dr. K. omits is the fact that the Pope is not simply required to teach the true Faith at all times but that he actually will always do so, based on the promises of Christ. That is what makes the Papacy so special — it cannot fail. It can be devoid of an occupant for a time, but it can never teach heresy or any kind of error that leads people into spiritual ruin. Otherwise, the Papacy might as well be of merely human institution, and the Pope would be no different in essence from the Anglican “Archbishop” of Canterbury or Pastor Bob down the street.
Kwasniewski then brings up Pope Alexander VI — widely thought to have been a moral reprobate (but not necessarily) — saying that he “did the minimum that a pope is required to do—safeguard traditional doctrine and worship.” What he doesn’t say is that this demonstrates that even a bad Pope, as long as he is a true one, will always be a Catholic and the promises of Christ for the Papacy will be fulfilled.
As the Church historian Fr. Fernand Mourret pointed out with regard to the immoral Pope John XII:
Divine providence, watching over the Church, miraculously preserved the deposit of faith, of which this young voluptuary was the guardian. This Pope’s life was a monstrous scandal, but his bullarium is faultless. We cannot sufficiently admire this prodigy. There is not a heretic or a schismatic who has not endeavored to legitimate his own conduct dogmatically: Photius tried to justify his pride, Luther his sensual passions, Calvin his cold cruelty. Neither Sergius III nor John XII nor Benedict IX nor Alexander VI, supreme pontiffs, definers of the faith, certain of being heard and obeyed by the whole Church, uttered, from the height of their apostolic pulpit, a single word that could be an approval of their disorders.
(Rev. Fernand Mourret, A History of the Catholic Church, Vol. 3 [St. Louis, MO: Herder Book Co., 1946], pp. 510-511)
More on the “bad Popes” issue can be found here.
Alas, Kwasniewski is not yet done:
Yes, Matthew 16:18 and surrounding is definitely talking about a person and his faith, which is the basis for the gift of a special role from Christ; but the key to the role being properly lived is the possession and exercise of the very same faith.
Ah yes, the head of the Catholic Church does have to be a Catholic himself — bummer!
It’s funny that our Novus Ordo theologian restricts himself to talking about Mt 16:18 and omits any discussion of the other, no less important Scripture passage that is always used in connection with the papal primacy, where Christ says to Simon Peter: “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren” (Lk 22:32).
This is the Scriptural text adduced by the Popes for making the case for the unshakable Faith of St. Peter and his successors, as we already saw above. Vatican I, too, used it in its dogmatic constitution on the Church. After quoting the passage, the council says:
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.
(First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 4)
Does this sound like Francis to anyone? Not exactly, huh?
Kwasniewski goes on:
A heretical or apostate pope would be a contradiction in terms; indeed, he would cancel himself out, like +2 and –2 in algebra. Of course, we know that this heresy or apostasy would have to be manifest, called out as such, and stubbornly maintained in the face of challenge. We’re getting close to that point.
It is nice to see that the author at least recognizes that a heretical Pope or apostate Pope is a contradiction in terms, something many other adherents of the semi-traditionalist position have a hard time accepting. He is correct in saying that heresy or apostasy would have to be manifest (that is, public and notorious), but he is wrong in saying that it would have to “called out as such” or that it would have to be “stubbornly maintained in the face of challenge“.
The reasons why he is wrong on that — and notice, he once again fails to supply any kind of documentation — is that, for one thing, there is no higher authority than the Pope, so no one could “call it out as such” except for a lower authority, and a lower authority is incapable of doing that in any way that could bind the supposed Pope’s conscience. It would thus be ineffective because devoid of authority. As Vatican I taught: “The sentence of the apostolic see (than which there is no higher authority) is not subject to revision by anyone, nor may anyone lawfully pass judgment thereupon” (Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 3).
The idea that some non-papal authority should first have to declare the “heretical Pope” a non-Pope before he actually loses the pontificate does not make a whole lot of sense either. What good would it do if a public heretic could continue to hold and exercise the Papacy for as long as no one declared him a non-Pope? Semi-traditionalists like to think that this would protect the office somehow, yet it would accomplish just the opposite, as is evident by Francis wielding so much power precisely because everyone thinks he is the Pope. The truth is that what protects the office of the Papacy is the fact that a public heretic would lose the pontificate immediately and without the need for any declaration, as St. Robert Bellarmine taught. No human intervention is needed — the “heretical Pope” is done immediately!
As far as clinging to heresy stubbornly, this much is true, since the sin of heresy requires the element of pertinacity. What is false is to think that the only way such pertinacity can manifest itself is “in the face of challenge.” Again, we have to ask: Who would issue the challenge? The Pope is the highest authority, hence no one has the right or the authority to challenge him. Of course Francis is not in fact a true Pope, but that’s not the point here — the point is the principle Kwasniewski is putting forward, namely, that a true Pope can be challenged in such a way and if he fails the challenge, then he can be declared to have lost his office. Although a declaration that a true Pope has lost his office is possible in theory (if the thesis be correct that a true Pope can personally defect from the Faith, which we deny but which the Church has not ruled out completely), such a declaration is only possible because the putative Pope is already not Pope and therefore a group of bishops or cardinals has authority over him and can make such a declaration.
That Francis has long manifested pertinacity in heresy or apostasy is easy to demonstrate, as he denies even the simplest of dogmas he cannot not have knowledge of, given his history and claimed positions, and which in any case he has a strict duty to know. The latest egregious example is the human fraternity document he signed in Abu Dhabi, in which Bergoglio claims that God has positively willed a diversity of religions. That is apostasy so blatant that nothing can possibly excuse it. Any child who were to utter such an abominable heretical blasphemy would not be permitted to make his First Holy Communion or receive Confirmation. It destroys the very basis not only of the true Catholic religion but of the very notion of revealed religion in general. It is Modernistic to the core. Moreover, the carefree attitude Francis has repeatedly demonstrated with regard to heresy — for example, see here, here, and here — shows how much he cares about adhering to the rule of Faith.
Kwasniewski then quotes a reader who asked him, “why would God not allow His Church to fail, but then let her get close anyway—why not draw the line sooner?” The correct general answer to that is simply that what God does and doesn’t permit is ultimately always to the greatest benefit of the elect and to His honor and glory. He prophesied that a deception would come that would be so great that even the elect would be deceived if He did not prevent it (see Mt 24:24). What is the purpose of this deception? Why does God allow it? The answer is found in 2 Thess 2:8-11:
And then that wicked one shall be revealed whom the Lord Jesus shall kill with the spirit of his mouth; and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming, him, whose coming is according to the working of Satan, in all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and in all seduction of iniquity to them that perish; because they receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. Therefore God shall send them the operation of error, to believe lying: that all may be judged who have not believed the truth, but have consented to iniquity.
It is clear, then, that although God would permit a bad Catholic Pope, He would never permit a non-Catholic Pope, since such a thing is impossible and positively excluded by His promises. The only reason why people like Kwasniewski can be so generous in accepting Francis’ claim to the Papacy (until some “challenge” and subsequent declaration by a lower authority) is that they do not submit to his Magisterium anyway and so acknowledging him as a valid Pope has no consequences for them. Sedevacantists, by contrast, adhere to real Catholicism and hence can’t take such a position: “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” (St. Robert Bellarmine, De Romano Pontifice, Book IV, Chapter 3; Grant translation).
But there is one more question that must be asked in this context: Would God permit a non-Catholic fake pope? The answer to that question is not self-evident; however, a study of what different Catholic authorities have said on the matter indicates that the answer is yes, either that He definitely will or that at least we cannot be sure that He won’t. This conclusion is drawn by looking at what Catholic Tradition as well as approved private revelation have to say about the tribulation of the Church in the latter days. The following links are helpful in that regard:
- The Pope and the Antichrist: Cardinal Manning lays out Church Tradition on the End Times
- Fr. Sylvester Berry: A False Pope and a Vacant Holy See during the Last Days
- Fr. Sylvester Berry: A False Church to imitate the True Church
- A Prophecy from 1869: Satan will try to Annihilate the Church
- The Papacy and the Passion of the Church
- Like Sheep without a Shepherd
- Mgr. Fulton Sheen in 1948: Satan will create a Counter-Church
Kwasniewski has become a rising star in the world of “wanting your Pope and beating him too.” That’s not because he actually offers any scholarly argumentation that can be taken seriously, but only because he continues to feed the desired narrative, camouflaged with a veneer of orthodoxy. In short: Kwasniewski is popular because he gives his audience what they like to hear.
Alas, that is precisely why God has sent the “operation of error” in the first place!
Image source: peterkwasniewski.com
License: fair use