Refuting yet another attempt to avoid Sedevacantism…
Can the Magisterium ‘devour’ Sacred Tradition?
Reply to an irresponsible Article by Rorate Caeli
In their efforts to steer a middle course between the Novus Ordo religion on the one side and Sedevacantism on the other, the recognize-and-resist traditionalists must continually come up with ideas and arguments that justify a divorce of the Deposit of Faith from the Church’s magisterium. The reason is simple: The man they stubbornly insist on acknowledging as the true and valid Pope of the Catholic Church, is himself not a Catholic and teaches heresies and other anti-Catholic errors even in his official magisterial acts.
One of the more recent such manifestations is the article “Tradition Devoured by the Magisterium” that appeared on the semi-traditionalist (recognize-and-resist) blog Rorate Caeli on Sep. 1, 2021. It is a translation of the Spanish original La Tradición devorada por el Magisterio, which had appeared on the Spanish-language blog Caminante Wanderer on Aug. 14. Although no author is named, the translator is identified as Peter Kwasniewski.
The article proposes the thesis that “in the course of the centuries, and especially after the Council of Trent, there has been a shift from an objective notion of Tradition as a revealed deposit to a subjective notion, which insists above all on the organ that proposes the truth—that is, the Magisterium.”
None other than the Universal Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), is called upon, albeit indirectly, in support of this misleading and dangerous thesis, inasmuch as he is said not to have appealed much to magisterial pronouncements but directly to the sources of Revelation — Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition: “In St. Thomas … there is no proof by the Magisterium; for him the auctoritates [authorities] are Scripture and the Fathers. Quotations from popes or councils are scarce.” This, we are apparently supposed to infer, shows that the great Saint and Doctor did not consider the ecclesiastical magisterium as much of an authority.
But is that so? We can simply bypass — as the scholastic says — this particular issue, because Aquinas tells us quite directly what his position is on the Teaching Church as the rule of Faith:
Now the formal object of faith is the First Truth, as manifested in Holy Writ and the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth. Consequently whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and Divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Holy Writ, has not the habit of faith, but holds that which is of faith otherwise than by faith. Even so, it is evident that a man whose mind holds a conclusion without knowing how it is proved, has not scientific knowledge, but merely an opinion about it. Now it is manifest that he who adheres to the teaching of the Church, as to an infallible rule, assents to whatever the Church teaches; otherwise, if, of the things taught by the Church, he holds what he chooses to hold, and rejects what he chooses to reject, he no longer adheres to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule, but to his own will. Hence it is evident that a heretic who obstinately disbelieves one article of faith, is not prepared to follow the teaching of the Church in all things; but if he is not obstinate, he is no longer in heresy but only in error. Therefore it is clear that such a heretic with regard to one article has no faith in the other articles, but only a kind of opinion in accordance with his own will.
(St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 5, a. 3; underlining added.)
Likewise, speaking of the celebrated Athanasian Creed, St. Thomas suggests that it did not become a rule of Faith until it was approved by the Roman Pontiff: “But since it contained briefly the whole truth of faith, it was accepted by the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff, so as to be considered as a rule of faith” (S.T., II-II, q. 1, a. 10, ad 3).
Thus we can easily see that the Universal Doctor’s attitude toward the Church’s teaching authority was exactly that which any Catholic must have, and he clearly ruled out any kind of “recognize and resist” position.
It is unfortunate that the anonymous writer of the Rorate article divides the rule of Faith into subjective and objective, assigning these categories to the magisterium and the Deposit of Faith (Scripture/Tradition), respectively, yet he does so without any kind of documentation. In other words, the author merely asserts that this distinction as understood by him is legitimate — he provides no proof. But what is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence, so there is really nothing to refute.
To say the magisterium is a subjective rule is utterly ridiculous, for there is nothing subjective about it. Its function, as we will see shortly, is to safeguard and transmit objective revelation from God; thus the magisterium must of necessity be objective also. A truly subjective (and therefore false) rule of Faith, by contrast, would be the private judgment of the Protestants.
Next, the anonymous author of the Rorate Caeli article hastens to clarify:
All this does not mean—and it is important to clarify this—that the primacy of the Roman See is in doubt; it is simply to note that before modern times this See did not exercise the active magisterium of dogmatic definitions and constant formulation of Catholic doctrine that it has exercised since the pontificates of Gregory XVI [1831-46] and, above all, of Pius IX [1846-78].
(“Tradition Devoured by the Magisterium”, Rorate Caeli, Sep. 1, 2021)
As a matter of historical fact, it may very well be true that the Catholic magisterium was a lot more active from Gregory XVI through Pius XII (1831-1958), compared to prior historical periods, but… so what? Perhaps the reason is that, as printed materials became more prevalent and information began to be circulated more quickly, more widely, and with greater efficiency, more frequent interventions by the magisterium became not only possible but also advisable.
In any case, it simply does not matter how often the Roman Pontiff chooses to use his magisterial office — that is entirely for him to decide: “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” (Pope Benedict XV, Encyclical Ad Beatissimi, n. 22).
What should concern us is not the chronology or frequency of magisterial activity, but what the Catholic teaching is regarding the nature, function, and authority of the ecclesiastical magisterium, above all that of the Pope. As the Rorate Caeli article itself acknowledges, the magisterium is the proximate rule of Faith; however, it criticizes that development:
We can say roughly that in the first centuries and until well into the second millennium, the Regula fidei was objective, that is, it was the same doctrine received from the Apostles, and that the popes, councils, and bishops fulfilled a function of conservation and of testifying to the fact that a doctrine had always been maintained—that it went back to the origins and therefore belonged to the aforesaid Regula fidei.
What can be observed is that a kind of reduction of Tradition to the Magisterium has been slowly taking place since the beginning of the second millennium and more rapidly in the last few centuries. There was a transition from conceiving Tradition as the content of the Apostolic Deposit to conceiving Tradition from the vantage of the transmitting organ, considered as residing in the Church’s Magisterium. The next step was to speak, probably beginning in the nineteenth century, of Tradition and Scripture as “remote rules” of faith, while the Magisterium would be the “proximate rule.” Theologians of the early twentieth century already speak of the Magisterium as having a formal function in relation to the objective deposit. Finally, the notion of remote rule is criticized, and the conclusion is reached of attributing the quality of rule of faith exclusively to the “living Magisterium.” With this process, the Magisterium has been introduced into the very definition of Tradition. To put it in an exaggerated way, Catholics today believe in Tradition because the Magisterium commands it. And for this reason, the faithful today wait for the Pope to pronounce on this or that matter, in order to know what to believe. And they obey slavishly in absolutely everything that the pope of the day comes up with, even his gestures or personal tastes.
(“Tradition Devoured by the Magisterium”, Rorate Caeli, Sep. 1, 2021; italics and bold print given.)
These lines are an incredible outrage! They attack the validity of the papal magisterium at least in the 19th and 20th centuries! But let’s take this piffle apart step by step.
The whole purpose of the Church’s magisterium is to be the official interpreter of the Deposit of Faith as found in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. What would be the alternative? It would be Protestantism, with each individual believer deciding for himself what God’s revelation is and how to understand it. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Protestants, too, believe in Scripture and some even in Tradition — however, as they understand it, not as the Church teaches.
That the remote rule of Faith is sometimes unclear and in need of interpretation, is nothing new. In the first century, Pope St. Peter cautioned the faithful that in the epistles of St. Paul, there “are certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Pet 3:16). Indeed, have the heretics in history not always appealed to this or that prooftext — distorting the truth of God in one way or another — in support of their false teachings?
The need for an authoritative ecclesiastical magisterium is abundantly clear, then, for it alone can guarantee that the faithful will be united in the true Faith.
The Popes have been very insistent and clear on this. For example, Pope Leo XIII taught:
…Christians … receive their rule of faith from the Church, by whose authority and under whose guidance they are conscious that they have beyond question attained to truth. Consequently, as the Church is one, because Jesus Christ is one, so throughout the whole Christian world there is, and ought to be, but one doctrine: “One Lord, one faith;” “but having the same spirit of faith,” they possess the saving principle whence proceed spontaneously one and the same will in all, and one and the same tenor of action.
…To determine, however, which are the doctrines divinely revealed belongs to the teaching Church, to whom God has entrusted the safekeeping and interpretation of His utterances. But the supreme teacher in the Church is the Roman Pontiff. Union of minds, therefore, requires, together with a perfect accord in the one faith, complete submission and obedience of will to the Church and to the Roman Pontiff, as to God Himself. This obedience should, however, be perfect, because it is enjoined by faith itself, and has this in common with faith, that it cannot be given in shreds; nay, were it not absolute and perfect in every particular, it might wear the name of obedience, but its essence would disappear. Christian usage attaches such value to this perfection of obedience that it has been, and will ever be, accounted the distinguishing mark by which we are able to recognize Catholics….
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 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, nn. 21-22,24; underlining added.)
Pope Pius XII, writing in 1950, confirmed his predecessor’s teaching:
…[T]his sacred Office of Teacher in matters of faith and morals must be the proximate and universal criterion of truth for all theologians, since to it has been entrusted by Christ Our Lord the whole deposit of faith — Sacred Scripture and divine Tradition — to be preserved, guarded and interpreted….
(Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Humani Generis, n. 18)
Lest anyone should think that assent to the Catholic magisterium could be withheld internally as long as external submission is given, that was shot down long ago by Pope Clement XI, who ordered “that all sons of the Catholic Church may learn to listen to the Church herself, not in silence only (for, “even the wicked are silent in darkness” [1 Samuel 2:9]), but with an interior obedience, which is the true obedience of an orthodox man…” (Apostolic Constitution Vineam Domini Sabaoth; Denz. 1350).
In the early 20th century, Pope St. Pius X identified obedience to the living (current) magisterium as the ultimate litmus test of orthodoxy:
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).
(Pope Pius X, Address Con Vera Soddisfazione, May 10, 1909. Translation taken from Papal Teachings: The Church, n. 716; italics given.)
This only makes sense, considering the intrinsic function and purpose of the Church’s magisterium:
For the teaching authority of the Church, which in the divine wisdom was constituted on earth in order that revealed doctrines might remain intact for ever, and that they might be brought with ease and security to the knowledge of men, and which is daily exercised through the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops who are in communion with him, has also the office of defining, when it sees fit, any truth with solemn rites and decrees, whenever this is necessary either to oppose the errors or the attacks of heretics, or more clearly and in greater detail to stamp the minds of the faithful with the articles of sacred doctrine which have been explained.
(Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Mortalium Animos, n. 9; underlining added.)
We can see, then, that the traditional Catholic doctrine on the magisterium requires those who recognize the Novus Ordo hierarchy and its false popes as valid, to be subject to them, and to swallow all of their heresies and errors hook, line, and sinker. “Recognize and resist” is not an option — rather, it is necessary for them to “recognize and obey the authority and supremacy of Peter and his legitimate successors” (Pius XI, Mortalium Animos, n. 11; italics added). Only the sedevacantist position — which denies that the Vatican II popes are in fact legitimate Popes — provides a way out of this dilemma.
Now, granted, most of the quotes we just presented are from the Popes during that most magisterially active time period the anonymous Rorate author is complaining about. But so what? The truth is the truth. What we just saw is the traditional Catholic doctrine! The magisterium does not “devour” Tradition, it upholds, safeguards, and guarantees it — unlike the Rorate Caeli blog, for example.
To show that this doctrine of the Church’s magisterium as the proximate and ultimate rule of Faith is no modern invention but a legitimate development that in essence can be traced back to antiquity, Pope Leo XIII wrote the following in his magnificent 1896 encyclical on the unity of the Church:
The practice of the Church has always been the same, as is shown by the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, who were wont to hold as outside Catholic communion, and alien to the Church, whoever would recede in the least degree from any point of doctrine proposed by her authoritative Magisterium. Epiphanius, Augustine, Theodore drew up a long list of the heresies of their times. St. Augustine notes that other heresies may spring up, to a single one of which, should any one give his assent, he is by the very fact cut off from Catholic unity. “No one who merely disbelieves in all (these heresies) can for that reason regard himself as a Catholic or call himself one. For there may be or may arise some other heresies, which are not set out in this work of ours, and, if any one holds to one single one of these he is not a Catholic” (S. Augustinus, De Haeresibus, n. 88).
The need of this divinely instituted means for the preservation of unity, about which we speak is urged by St. Paul in his epistle to the Ephesians. In this he first admonishes them to preserve with every care concord of minds: “Solicitous to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. iv., 3, et seq.). And as souls cannot be perfectly united in charity unless minds agree in faith, he wishes all to hold the same faith: “One Lord, one faith,” and this so perfectly one as to prevent all danger of error: “that henceforth we be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the wickedness of men, by cunning craftiness, by which they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph. iv., 14): and this he teaches is to be observed, not for a time only – “but until we all meet in the unity of faith… unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ” (13). But, in what has Christ placed the primary principle, and the means of preserving this unity? In that – “He gave some Apostles – and other some pastors and doctors, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (11-12).
Wherefore, from the very earliest times the fathers and doctors of the Church have been accustomed to follow and, with one accord to defend this rule. Origen writes: “As often as the heretics allege the possession of the canonical scriptures, to which all Christians give unanimous assent, they seem to say: ‘Behold the word of truth is in the houses.’ But we should believe them not and abandon not the primary and ecclesiastical tradition. We should believe not otherwise than has been handed down by the tradition of the Church of God” (Vetus Interpretatio Commentariorum in Matt. n. 46). Irenaeus too says: “The doctrine of the Apostles is the true faith… which is known to us through the Episcopal succession… which has reached even unto our age by the very fact that the Scriptures have been zealously guarded and fully interpreted” (Contra Haereses, lib. iv., cap. 33, n. 8). And Tertullian: “It is therefore clear that all doctrine which agrees with that of the Apostolic churches – the matrices and original centres of the faith, must be looked upon as the truth, holding without hesitation that the Church received it from the Apostles, the Apostles from Christ and Christ from God…. We are in communion with the Apostolic churches, and by the very fact that they agree amongst themselves we have a testimony of the truth” (De Praescrip., cap. xxxi). And so Hilary: “Christ teaching from the ship signifies that those who are outside the Church can never grasp the divine teaching; for the ship typifies the Church where the word of life is deposited and preached. Those who are outside are like sterile and worthless sand: they cannot comprehend” (Comment. in Matt. xiii., n. 1). Rufinus praises Gregory of Nazianzum and Basil because “they studied the text of Holy Scripture alone, and took the interpretation of its meaning not from their own inner consciousness, but from the writings and on the authority of the ancients, who in their turn, as it is clear, took their rule for understanding the meaning from the Apostolic succession” (Hist. Eccl., lib. ii., cap. 9).
Wherefore, as appears from what has been said, Christ instituted in the Church a living, authoritative and permanent Magisterium, which by His own power He strengthened, by the Spirit of truth He taught, and by miracles confirmed. He willed and ordered, under the gravest penalties, that its teachings should be received as if they were His own.
(Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Satis Cognitum, n. 9; italics given; underlining added.)
It is very clear from Pope Leo’s teaching, and from the historical evidence he adduces, that the Deposit of Faith revealed in Holy Scripture and Apostolic Tradition is that which the magisterium of the Church teaches and guarantees. That is the whole point of God giving us a Church to begin with, which is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15).
Perhaps it is too much to ask the authors at Rorate Caeli to do some basic research into the theological issues they write about, but before publishing the nonsense he did, Peter Kwasniewski — as translator and publisher of the anonymous post — could at least have consulted the Catholic Encyclopedia, a reference work he seems to studiously avoid:
It should be noted that the Fathers, especially Tertullian and St. Irenæus, use the term tradition not merely passively, viz., of orally bestowed Divine teaching, but in the active sense of ecclesiastical interpretation. And this is undoubtedly St. Paul’s meaning when he tells Timothy to uphold “the form of sound words which thou hast heard from me” (2 Timothy 1:13). It is in this sense that the various formulae of faith, of which we have the earliest sample in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, became the rule of faith.
(Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Rule of Faith”; underlining added.)
There we see that the Church’s magisterium as part of “the very definition of Tradition” is not a novel concept, it is quite traditional. More on that shortly.
What the Rorate post’s author criticizes as a “reduction of Tradition to the Magisterium” exists only in his mind. At no point is Tradition actually reduced to the magisterium — if anything, Church teaching has simply been crystallized over the centuries so that we now appropriately speak of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition as the remote or indirect rule of Faith, and the Catholic teaching authority, the magisterium, as the proximate or direct rule of Faith, as discussed earlier:
The only direct rule at any given time is the actual teaching of the Church, whether expressed solemnly by pope or council or in the ordinary way by the instruction of her bishops and priests. The indirect or remote rule, i.e., the source from which this teaching is taken, is twofold, the Scriptures and Apostolic Tradition.
(Donald Attwater, ed., A Catholic Dictionary, 3rd ed. [New York, NY: The Macmillan Company, 1958], s.v. “Rule of Faith”, p. 439)
The ecclesiastical magisterium (direct rule) cannot possibly be in conflict with Scripture or Tradition (remote rule), such that Catholics would have to decide, on their own, between the one or the other. On the contrary, in a certain sense the two depend on each other:
There can, then, be no real opposition or conflict between the invisible mission of the Holy Spirit and the juridical commission of Ruler and Teacher received from Christ, since they mutually complement and perfect each other — as do the body and soul in man — and proceed from our one Redeemer who not only said as He breathed on the Apostles “Receive ye the Holy Spirit” [Jn 20:22], but also clearly commanded: “As the Father hath sent me, I also send you” [Jn 20:21]; and again: “He that heareth you heareth me” [Lk 10:16].
(Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis, n. 65)
That’s bad news for our Rorate author. However, as we saw already, he continues thus:
To put it in an exaggerated way, Catholics today believe in Tradition because the Magisterium commands it. And for this reason, the faithful today wait for the Pope to pronounce on this or that matter, in order to know what to believe. And they obey slavishly in absolutely everything that the pope of the day comes up with, even his gestures or personal tastes.
One wonders in what kind of a world this man lives: Where are all those people slavishly obeying Francis in absolutely everything he comes up with? (Not that the disreputable apostate actually is Pope, but that is irrelevant in the criticism being made.)
The magisterium hasn’t recently been introduced into the very definition of Tradition, it has been part of that definition from the very beginning, in two ways: first, insofar as it is part of Tradition that there is a teaching authority in the Church, as demonstrated by Pope Leo XIII above; and second, insofar as the only way we would know what Tradition is, is by the teaching Church telling us. In that sense, the anonymous writer is entirely right, but his surprise and disagreement are misplaced, for it is nothing new.
Without the authority of the Church to inform and bind his conscience, how would a Catholic know what constitutes divine revelation? How would he know what writings of ancient times are divinely inspired? How would he know what teachers of the first centuries are properly Fathers of the Church? How would he know what translations of these writings are safe to accept?
It was the Doctor of the Church St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), hopefully traditional enough for Rorate Caeli, who wrote the following in Chapter 5 of his Treatise Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus: “For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.” That is the testimony of Tradition, not simply of some recent development; and it only makes sense, since the Church existed before divine revelation was even complete. In other words, the magisterium was already in place before all of Sacred Tradition had been publicly revealed and all of Sacred Scripture had been written down. We must remember that public divine revelation did not cease until the death of the last Apostle (St. John), which was around 100 AD. The Church had been founded in 33.
The question will then arise as to how it is that we believe in the Catholic Church to begin with. On what grounds do we accept her authority? In a nutshell, we do so on account of history and reason. The so-called external motives of credibility are the objective and rational foundation on which the truth of the Catholic religion rests. They can be found explained and defended at length in pre-Vatican II apologetics books such as We Stand with Christ by Fr. Joseph Fenton (now reprinted as Laying the Foundation), The Credentials of the Catholic Church by Rev. J.B. Bagshawe, Defense of the Catholic Church by Fr. Francis X. Doyle, and the pre-1959 editions of the book The Faith of Millions by Fr. John A. O’Brien [full disclosure: we make a small commission on purchases made through Amazon book links]. These are just some examples of popular books written for the laity to prove the rational foundation of the Roman Catholic religion.
The motives of credibility are quite important, especially in our day, because they are continually denied and attacked by the Novus Ordo Modernists, who undermine this rational foundation by appealing instead to a subjective experience, to an “encounter” with God, as the basis of belief. But that can never be the foundation for the true Faith, because, as St. Pius X pointed out so pertinently: “On what grounds can Modernists deny the truth of an experience affirmed by a follower of Islam? Will they claim a monopoly of true experiences for Catholics alone?” (Encyclical Pascendi Dominici, n. 14).
The external motives of credibility establish objectively and with certitude that it is reasonable to believe in Jesus Christ and adhere to the Catholic Church. Although reason is thus the foundation for Faith, every man is nevertheless free to choose to believe or not. At the same time, it is beyond our natural powers to give the internal assent of Faith — God must assist us with His supernatural grace, and in that sense Faith is a divine gift.
In 1870, the First Vatican Council issued a beautiful dogmatic constitution on Faith and reason called Dei Filius. It explains the relationship between the two and is neither very long nor terribly difficult to understand. In a nutshell, we can say that the motives of credibility show that it is reasonable to have Faith and unreasonable not to.
Further on in his article, the anonymous Rorate Caeli author writes:
The most ultramontane positions could argue that the First Vatican Council defined, as a matter de fide, that the Roman Pontiff possesses universal, supreme, and immediate power even in jurisdictional and disciplinary matters, and whoever does not wish to accept it, anathema sit (Denzinger 1821–1831); therefore, the foregoing thesis could be seen as an attack against this dogma of faith.
It is definitely not so, because what is questioned is not the pope’s universal power but the papal absolutism of the second millennium. Supreme power is not equivalent to absolutism, which is the same power taken to excess.
(italics and bold print given)
Ah, so the thesis is being advanced that the Popes habitually exceeded their limits in the exercise of the Papacy — yet apparently all theologians, doctors, and saints simply went along with such an egregious abuse of power; worse still, this “absolutism” even creeped into the magisterium itself so that now we’re stuck with Popes teaching a distortion of the Papacy in their official documents.
This is nothing but utter claptrap which, if not outright heretical, should at least receive the “favorable to heresy” censure. We have addressed the substance of this objection at length before:
The Rorate “traditionalist” author is not alone, by the way, in being suspicious of the Papacy on account of its “exercise” in the second millennium. He finds himself in good company with the Modernist Joseph Ratzinger (aka “Pope Benedict XVI”), who, just as he was transferring from Munich to Rome to become the Prefect of the Congregation for the Destruction of the Faith, released a book denying the Catholic dogma defined at Vatican I:
We may not interpret as truth that which is, in reality, a historical development with a more or less close relationship to truth. …
…Certainly, no one who claims allegiance to Catholic theology can simply declare the doctrine of primacy null and void, especially not if he seeks to understand the objections and evaluates with an open mind the relative weight of what can be determined historically. Nor is it possible, on the other hand, for him to regard as the only possible form and, consequently, as binding on all Christians the form this primacy has taken in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The symbolic gestures of Pope [sic] Paul VI and, in particular, his kneeling before the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch [the schismatic Patriarch Athenagoras I] were an attempt to express precisely this and, by such signs, to point the way out of the historical impasse. …
…Rome must not require more from the East with respect to the doctrine of primacy than had been formulated and was lived in the first millennium. When the [heretical-schismatic] Patriarch Athenagoras, on July 25, 1967, on the occasion of the Pope’s visit to Phanar, designated him as the successor of St. Peter, as the most esteemed among us, as one who presides in charity, this great Church leader was expressing the essential content of the doctrine of primacy as it was known in the first millennium. Rome need not ask for more. Reunion could take place in this context if, on the one hand, the East would cease to oppose as heretical the developments that took place in the West in the second millennium and would accept the Catholic Church as legitimate and orthodox in the form she had acquired in the course of that development, while, on the other hand, the West would recognize the Church of the East as orthodox and legitimate in the form she has always had.
Patriarch Athenagoras himself spoke … strongly when he greeted the Pope in Phanar: “Against all expectation, the bishop of Rome is among us, the first among us in honor, ‘he who presides in love’ (Ignatius of Antioch, epistola “Ad Romano”, PG 5, col. 801, prologue).” It is clear that, in saying this, the Patriarch did not abandon the claims of the Eastern Churches or acknowledge the primacy of the West. Rather, he stated plainly what the East understood as the order, the rank and title, of the equal bishops in the Church — and it would be worth our while to consider whether this archaic confession, which has nothing to do with the “primacy of jurisdiction” [defined at Vatican I] but confesses a primacy of “honor” (τιμή) and agape [love], might not be recognized as a formula that adequately reflects the position Rome occupies in the Church — “holy courage” requires that prudence be combined with “audacity”: “The kingdom of God suffers violence” [cf. Mt 11:12].
(Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology , trans. by Sister Mary Frances McCarthy, S.N.D. [San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1987], pp. 197-199, 217; underlining added.)
That is HERESY, as demonstrated here.
Although the Rorate piece does not go as far as Ratzinger does in this text, the parallels are obvious, and it won’t be long before the recognize-and-resisters begin to doubt the First Vatican Council. Peter Kwasniewski is already on record questioning its “spirit”.
The Rorate writer continues:
On the other hand, it is necessary to be precise about what is understood by “supreme and universal power,” since many consider that it empowers the Roman Pontiff to do whatever he wants. This is not so. There are many things the pope cannot do. He cannot suppress institutions of divine right. He cannot suppress the episcopal order. He cannot abrogate sacraments. He cannot modify or annul the commandments. He cannot admit someone in mortal sin to sacramental communion. He cannot bless morally evil acts.
(bold print given)
Here there is a fundamental disagreement between the recognize-and-resist position and Sedevacantism. We agree, of course, that the Pope cannot do whatever he wants, cannot change the Faith, cannot abolish sacraments, etc. However, we understand the term “cannot” to mean precisely that: It is not possible for him to do such a thing. That is, he actually will not ever do such a thing, precisely because God has rendered it impossible, that is, unable to happen. What the semi-trads believe, by contrast, is that the Pope can do all that but then it doesn’t count because God forbids it, so that the rest of the Church must then go against the Pope and tell him he’s being a naughty boy and his decrees are invalid.
If the recognize-and-resisters can produce any magisterial evidence that that is how the Church understands the limits of the Papacy, it would be great if they could provide it sometime. It would turn the teaching on the Papacy on its head and make void the words of our divine Savior: “And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven” (Mt 16:19).
The author continues:
And above all, there is a general principle of natural law that applies to any authority: commands must be rational. If a command is not ordered by reason, it is not law but force and violence. And while the pope cannot be judged by anyone on earth, his manifestly irrational laws or commands can be resisted.
That is fair enough, and if a Pope were to issue an irrational command — for example, if he told the head sacristan at St. Peter’s Basilica that he would have to do 10,000 push-ups per day or else be excommunicated — then such a command would be null and void.
However, the situation we are dealing with since the death of Pope Pius XII is not one of a Pope issuing irrational commands to individuals; it is one in which a series of putative Popes imposes false doctrine, including heresy, on the universal Church, as well as a Modernist-Protestant liturgy, invalid sacramental rites, and all kinds of blasphemous, sacrilegious, and impious universal laws. That is a completely different thing.
The point at issue, then, is not refusing one’s obedience to illegitimate commands but that of refusing submission to the Pope as Supreme Teacher and Legislator.
The Rorate Caeli writer ends his toxic monograph as follows:
Finally, an argument from authority. When Benedict XVI took office as Bishop of Rome in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, he said in his homily: “The Pope is not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and wills are law.” And while still prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he wrote: “The Pope is not an absolute monarch whose will is law. He is rather the guardian of authentic Tradition and thus the first guarantor of obedience. He cannot do whatever comes into his head and is thus able to oppose those people who, for their part, want to do whatever comes into their heads. Its rules are not those of arbitrary power, but those of obedience in faith” (Prologue to Alcuin Reid, The Organic Development of the Liturgy, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2004, p. 18).
In the light of the above thesis and the words of Pope Benedict XVI, it is worth asking, once again, to what extent the despotic act with which Francis has suffocated the traditional liturgy through Traditiones Custodes should be obeyed—thus ceasing to be the “guardian of authentic tradition” and becoming its executioner.
It is quite telling, and not at all surprising, that when semi-trads finally get around to quoting what they believe is a theological authority on the whole matter, they choose a Modernist who publicly rejects the dogma of the Papacy! And that is not the first time they’ve done so, as we demonstrate here. Apparently they couldn’t find a pre-Vatican II theologian of note who agrees with them. How about that! What a fitting way for the author to end his theologically disastrous article.
By the way, we responded to this article also in audio format, in our recent podcast episode TRADCAST EXPRESS 140. You can listen here:
More of our podcasts can be found here.
What is happening to these self-styled “traditionalists”? They are moving farther and farther away from the proximate rule of Faith, all because they are attempting to uphold the legitimacy of a public apostate as the Pope of the Catholic Church! How tragic it is to see people more willing to give up the Church’s perennial doctrine than to finally let go of that apostate from Buenos Aires!
Rorate Caeli is starting to pick up after One Peter Five, where the modus operandi seems to be: It doesn’t matter how theologically deficient the argumentation is, as long as the recognize-and-resist position is defended — after all, we can’t be Novus Ordo and we don’t want to be sedevacantists! But that is no way to proceed. That is no way to be faithful to Him who said “the truth shall make you free” (Jn 8:32).
One may assume that the anonymous author of the troublesome Rorate post is a layman, else the operators of the blog would surely have told their readers that these lines were penned by a priest, precisely to lend greater weight to his thesis. Not that it really matters one way or another, for error is error, regardless of whether it proceeds from the mind of a layman or that of a priest.
In 1954, Pope Pius XII had some choice words for lay theologians at odds with the living magisterium of the Church, but His Holiness’ criticism applies just as much to priests (valid or invalid):
As for the laity, it is clear that they can be invited by legitimate teachers and accepted as helpers in the defense of the faith. It is enough to call to mind the thousands of men and women engaged in catechetical work, and other types of lay apostolate, all of which are highly praiseworthy and can be strenuously promoted. But all these lay apostles must be, and remain, under the authority, leadership, and watchfulness of those who by divine institution are set up as teachers of Christ’s Church. In matters involving the salvation of souls, there is no teaching authority in the Church not subject to this authority and vigilance.
Recently what is called “lay theology” has sprung up and spread to various places, and a new class of “lay theologian” has emerged, which claims to be sui juris; there are professors of this theology occupying established chairs, courses are given, notes published, seminars held. These professors distinguish their teaching authority from, and in a certain way set it up against, the public Teaching Authority of the Church; at times, in order to justify their position, they appeal to the charismatic gifts of teaching and of interpreting prophecy, which are mentioned more than once in the New Testament, especially in the Pauline Epistles (e.g. Rom. 12:6 f.; I Cor. 12:28-30); they appeal to history, which from the beginning of the Christian religion down to today presents so many names of laymen who for the good of souls have taught the truth of Christ orally and in writing, though not called to this by the Bishops and without having asked or received the sacred teaching authority, led on by their own inward impulse and apostolic zeal. Nevertheless it is necessary to maintain to the contrary that there never has been, there is not now, and there never will be in the Church a legitimate teaching authority of the laity withdrawn by God from the authority, guidance, and watchfulness of the sacred Teaching Authority; in fact, the very denial of submission offers a convincing proof and criterion that laymen who thus speak and act are not guided by the Spirit of God and of Christ. Furthermore, everyone can see how great a danger of confusion and error there is in this “lay theology”; a danger also lest others begin to be taught by men clearly unfitted for the task, or even by deceitful and fraudulent men, whom St. Paul described: “The time will come when men …, always itching to hear something fresh, will provide themselves with a continuous succession of new teachers, as the whim takes them, turning a deaf ear to the truth bestowing their attention on fables instead” (cf. II Tim. 4:3 f.).
(Pope Pius XII, Allocution Si Diligis on the Occasion of the Canonization of Saint Pius X, May 31, 1954; underlining added.)
Touché! Lay or clerical, this condemns every single recognize-and-resist theologian/apologist, especially the high-profile ones like Peter Kwasniewski, Michael Voris, Taylor Marshall, the late John Vennari and Rev. Gregorius Hesse, Michael Matt, Christopher Ferrara, the Rorate Caeli resisters, and so many others. The lay and priest theologians of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) also fall under the Pope’s condemnation, they perhaps more than any other, since they are formally affiliated with a religious society for which opposition to the Novus Ordo magisterium is essential.
In an address given on Sep. 14, 1956, the same Pope Pius XII brought this subject up again and noted that theologians are not the “teachers of the magisterium” — rather, it is the other way around: “To reverse the matter would be making Theologians practically the ‘magistri Magisterii’ [‘teachers of the Magisterium’], which is obviously an error”, the Pope made clear (The Pope Speaks, Spring 1957, p. 390).
All this makes perfect sense. There can be no theologians, no theological teachers who teach against the living magisterium of the Church. When there is a true Pope reigning, one must be in communion with him, and any kind of teaching contrary to the magisterium of the Pope would be impermissible:
For any man to be able to prove his Catholic faith and affirm that he is truly a Catholic, he must be able to convince the Apostolic See of this. For this See is predominant and with it the faithful of the whole Church should agree. And the man who abandons the See of Peter can only be falsely confident that he is in the Church. As a result, that man is already a schismatic and a sinner who establishes a see in opposition to the unique See of the blessed Peter from which the rights of sacred communion derive for all men.
(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Quartus Supra, n. 8)
There is no getting around it: A Catholic must be subject to the reigning Pope, who necessarily guarantees Tradition. That is God’s promise to the See of Peter (cf. Lk 22:31-32; Mt 16:18). It is when there is no Pope that the Church is thrown into great confusion and distress.
None of this is terribly difficult to grasp, and the recognize-and-resist crowd would no doubt agree with the traditional theology if Pius XII were still Pope and the Modernist revolution hadn’t happened. However, after over 50 years since Vatican II and after over 8 years of Francis as their “Pope”, the recognize-and-resisters are grasping at straws at this point.
Because they refuse to countenance the idea that Bergoglio is not in fact the Pope, they are forced to come up with anything at all to impugn the validity, veracity, and authority of the Roman Catholic magisterium. They are not ashamed to pit it against divine revelation itself — when it is precisely that Deposit of Faith that testifies to the living magisterium as the proximate norm for Catholic belief and action.
Image source: shutterstock.com (dade72)
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