Pope St. Pius X slams Recognize-and-Resist: ‘Ultimate Criterion of Orthodoxy is Obedience to Living Magisterium’
There is Catholic Tradition and then there is “Catholic Tradition”.
The former is what one actually finds in the traditional (i.e. pre-Vatican II) Catholic theology books and the pronouncements of the papal magisterium, whereas the latter is a popularly-accepted caricature thereof that consists of an assortment of quasi-theological ideas cobbled together from select quotations and slogans that were once popularized by recognize-and-resist apologists like Michael Davies (1936-2004) and have been perpetuated ever since by the Lefebvrists and their theological cousins.
One only has to think of how these would-be traditionalists frequently appeal to alleged “papolatry”, “Ultramontanism”, and “false obedience” to justify their position, and how they make arguments along the lines of “we’ve had bad Popes before”, “St. Peter denied Christ three times”, “St. Paul rebuked St. Peter to his face”, “Quo Primum can’t be revoked”, “Pope Liberius excommunicated St. Athanasius”, “it’s not infallible”, “it’s not truly magisterial”.
Then it becomes apparent that these people have obviously never bothered to look these things up in a pre-Vatican II theology book or an anthology of magisterial pronouncements. Among the most influential offenders in that regard, aside from Michael Davies, we may count in particular Christopher Ferrara, Michael Matt, Peter Kwasniewski, Taylor Marshall, Steve Skojec, Michael Voris, and John Vennari.
Today we present another example from the real Catholic Magisterium to show how false these popular traditionalist myths are. It comes from none other than Pope St. Pius X (r. 1903-1914), the one man all traditionalists claim to revere and follow, and is an address the Holy Father gave to Catholic university students on May 10, 1909. Pope Pius reminded the young men of the true concept of obedience to the Pope, warning them not to imitate the Modernists, who try to evade this genuine submission to the Roman Pontiff by distorting its true nature and minimizing the obligations a Catholic has with regard to the Apostolic See:
…I recommend to you only to remain strong in your determination to be loyal sons of the Church of Jesus Christ, at a time when there are so many who, perhaps without knowing it, have shown themselves disloyal. For the first and greatest criterion of the faith, the ultimate and unassailable test of orthodoxy is obedience to the teaching authority of the Church, which is ever living and infallible, since she was established by Christ to be the columna et firmamentum veritatis, “the pillar and support of truth” (1 Tim 3:15).
Jesus Christ, who knew our weakness, who came into the world to preach the gospel to the poor above all, chose for the spread of Christianity a very simple means adapted to the capacity of all men and suited to every age: a means which required neither learning, nor research, nor culture, nor rationalization, but only willing ears to hear, and simplicity of heart to obey. This is why St. Paul says: fides ex auditu (Rom 10:17), faith comes not by sight, but by hearing, from the living authority of the Church, a visible society composed of masters and disciples, of rulers and of governed, of shepherds and sheep and lambs. Jesus Christ Himself has laid on his disciples the duty of hearing the instructions of their masters, on subjects of living in submission to the dictates of rulers, on sheep and lambs of following with docility in the footsteps of their shepherds. And to shepherds, to rulers, and to teachers He has said, Docete omnes gentes. Spiritus veritatis docebit vos omnem veritatem. Ecce ego vobiscum sum usque ad consummationem sæculi (Mt 28:19-20): “Going, teach ye all nations. The Spirit of truth will teach you all truth. And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.”
From these facts you can see how far astray are those Catholics, who, in the name of historical and philosophical criticism and that tendentious spirit which has invaded every field, put in the foremost rank the religious question itself, insinuating that by study and research we should form a religious conscience in harmony with our times, or, as they say, “modern”. And so, with a system of sophisms and errors they falsify the concept of obedience inculcated by the Church; they arrogate to themselves the right of judging the actions of authority even to the extent of ridiculing them; they attribute to themselves a mission to impose a reform — a mission which they have received neither from God nor from any authority. They limit obedience to purely exterior actions, even if they do not resist authority or rebel against it, opposing the faulty judgment of some individual without any real competence, or of their own inner conscience deceived by vain subtleties, to the judgment and commandment of the one who by divine mandate is their lawful judge, master, and shepherd.
Oh, my dear young men! Listen to the words of him who truly wishes you well: do not let yourselves be seduced by mere outward show, but be strong to resist illusions and flatteries and you will be saved!
But the official Church, they say, wants ignorance, impedes the development of religious studies; an intolerable discipline imposes silence. No, dear students: the Church, representing Jesus Christ, continually preaches those same words He addressed to the Jews: Mea doctrina non est mea, sed eius qui misit me; “My doctrine is not mine, but his that send me”; and He added: Si quis voluerit voluntatem eius facere, cognoscet de doctrina, utrum ex Deo sit, an ego a meipso loquar: “If any man will do the will of him, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (Jn 7:16-17). That is why the Church has always honored, not only the early Fathers and Doctors, but also the writers of every age who have studied and published works to spread the truth, to defend it against the attacks of unbelievers, and to throw into relief the absolute harmony which exists between faith and reason.
Do not let yourselves be deceived by the subtle declarations of others who do not cease to pretend that they wish to be with the Church, to love the Church, to fight for her so that she will not lose the masses, to work for the Church so that she will come to understand the times and so to win back the people and attach them to herself. Judge these men according to their works. If they maltreat and despise the ministers of the Church and even the Pope; if they try by every means to minimize their authority, to evade their direction, and to disregard their counsels; if they do not fear to raise the standard of rebellion, what Church are these men speaking about? Not, certainly, of that Church established super fundamentum Apostolorum et Prophetarum, ipso summo angulari lapide, Christo Jesus: “upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone” (Eph 2:20). So We must have ever before our mind’s eye that counsel of St. Paul to the Galatians: “If we ourselves or if an angel should teach you any other Gospel than that which we have taught you, let him be anathema” (Gal 1:8).
(Pope Pius X, Address Con Vera Soddisfazione, May 10, 1909; in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, vol. I (1909), pp. 461-464; underlining added. Translation taken from Papal Teachings: The Church, nn. 716-720; italics given.)
Do the ideas, the conduct, and the excuses Saint Pius X condemns not sound awfully familiar? Are they not, mutatis mutandis, what we hear from today’s non-sedevacantist traditionalists?
To put it in terms “Fr.” John Hunwicke and Dr. Peter Kwasniewski will understand: Pope Pius X was a hyper-über-papalist, an Ultramontanist, a veritable papolator! That’s because he was a Catholic!
The reason why the recognize-and-resist pundits never (or rarely) bother with the actual traditional teachings of the Church is that their theology is “need-based” rather than “truth-based”. They do not study traditional doctrine in order to understand what the Church requires them to believe about a certain matter. Rather, they begin with a desired conclusion and then merely look for bits and pieces from theology or from Church history they think will lend support to their thesis.
In this they act much like a defense lawyer who, seeking to get his client a “not guilty” verdict, tries to find and present only helpful pieces of exonerating evidence that are likely to persuade the judge, while omitting, minimizing, or dismissing anything that would lead His Honor to come to a different decision. Perhaps that is why the recognize-and-resist apologists have a number of lawyers or law professors in their ranks (think of Chris Ferrara, Brian McCall, or John Salza).
For those who think that perhaps Pope St. Pius X was teaching a novel and exaggerated doctrine of submission to the Pope, let it be known that he was merely reiterating the teachings of his predecessors, among whom Leo XIII (r. 1878-1903) and Pius IX stand out (r. 1846-1878):
…[I]t is to give proof of a submission which is far from sincere to set up some kind of opposition between one Pontiff and another. Those who, faced with two differing directives, reject the present one to hold to the past, are not giving proof of obedience to the authority which has the right and duty to guide them; and in some ways they resemble those who, on receiving a condemnation, would wish to appeal to a future council, or to a Pope who is better informed.
(Pope Leo XIII, Apostolic Letter Epistola Tua)
But obedience must not limit itself to matters which touch the faith: its sphere is much more vast: it extends to all matters which the episcopal power embraces. For the Christian people, the bishops are not only the teachers of the faith, they are placed at their head to rule and govern them; they are responsible for the salvation of the souls whom God has entrusted to them, and of which they will one day have to render an account. It is for this reason that the Apostle St. Paul addresses this exhortation to Christians: “Obey your prelates, and be subject to them. For they watch as having to render an account of your souls” [Heb. 13:17].
In fact, it is always true and manifest to all that there are in the Church two grades, very distinct by their nature: the shepherds and the flock, that is to say, the rulers and the people. It is the function of the first order to teach, to govern, to guide men through life, to impose rules; the second has the duty to be submissive to the first, to obey, to carry out orders, to render honor. And if subordinates usurp the place of superiors, this is, on their part, not only to commit an act of harmful boldness, but even to reverse, as far as in them lies, the order so wisely established by the Providence of the Divine Founder of the Church….
Not only must those be held to fail in their duty who openly and brazenly repudiate the authority of their leaders, but those, too, who give evidence of a hostile and contrary disposition by their clever tergiversations and their oblique and devious dealings. The true and sincere virtue of obedience is not satisfied with words; it consists above all in submission of mind and heart.
(Pope Leo XIII, Apostolic Letter Est Sane Molestum)
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)
It’s time for those who mean to have a love for and veneration of Catholic Tradition to abandon the caricature of “Catholic Tradition” and embrace the real doctrine instead.
The above video was made in 2016. Louie Verrecchio has since abandoned this false position on papal authority.
The problem is not the Catholic teaching on the Papacy.
The problem is that a manifest apostate is being accepted as Pope.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
License: public domain