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No, Catholics Can’t “Recognize and Resist”:
Response to One Peter Five

As seen on its masthead, the web site One Peter Five has as its stated goal: “Rebuilding Catholic Culture. Restoring Catholic Tradition.”

In the name of a defense of Tradition, contributor Eric Sammons published the following post today:

The article stands out for making unsubstantiated claims, a very common problem in “recognize-and-resist” circles. That is not to say that all its claims are false, of course; but it does show, it seems, a certain disrespect for the reader, who is apparently expected to simply accept what the author puts forward. And while that may be justified if the writer is a reputable expert in Sacred Theology or Church history, Eric Sammons doesn’t fall into that category.

In fact, Sammons, who is a convert from Protestantism and holds a Master’s degree in Novus Ordo theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, has shown himself to be an embarrassing theological lightweight in the past, as can be gleaned from the following posts:

The purpose of the present post is to provide a brief but sufficient critique of Sammons’ “Can Catholics ‘Recognize and Resist’?” article.

For those who need a little bit of background to the whole recognize-and-resist issue, which refers to recognizing someone as a true Pope but then resisting his teachings and his acts of governance as one deems necessary in order not to betray the Catholic Faith and imperil one’s soul, the following links will be helpful, if perhaps a bit overwhelming:

But let us now turn to Sammons’ text.

The author starts out by making plain that he and those in his camp “recognize that Francis is the legitimate pope and that as pope he is our Holy Father who deserves our obedience. Yet at the same time we resist all aspects of his work that are contrary to apostolic tradition.” He goes on to state that this resistance is “not just a matter of a few criticisms here and there, but instead a rejection of Francis’s vision for the Church.” He then asks the all-important question: “Is this a legitimate position for a Catholic, particularly a traditional Catholic, to take?”

To answer that question, Sammons unfortunately does not proceed in an intuitive manner. The reasonable thing to do would have been to consult the Catholic Church’s official teachings, either directly (found in her magisterium) or indirectly (found in dogmatic theology manuals, catechisms, and similar books) — preferably both, in fact, since the best way to ensure that one understands the Church’s teaching correctly is to find it explained in the works of her approved theologians and teachers.

Had Sammons proceeded in this common-sense manner, he would have found a definitive answer to his question right away, albeit not one to his liking:

…it 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)

…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).

(Pope St. Pius X, Allocution Con Vera Soddisfazione; underlining added.)

But, all the same, although many non-Catholics may be found who loudly preach fraternal communion in Christ Jesus, yet you will find none at all to whom it ever occurs to submit to and obey the Vicar of Jesus Christ either in His capacity as a teacher or as a governor.

… Furthermore, in this one Church of Christ no man can be or remain who does not accept, recognize and obey the authority and supremacy of Peter and his legitimate successors.

(Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Mortalium Animos, nn. 7,11; underlining added.)

Sammons is quite aware of the magisterial/doctrinal evidence against his position. Yet, instead of submitting to the traditional teaching of the Church before the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), he quickly dismisses it out of hand on the specious grounds that “this view does not embrace the 2,000-year totality of tradition.” View? What “view”? It is the doctrine of the Church!

He elaborates: “Previous generations of Catholics did not look upon the pope as the Catholic edition of a Delphic Oracle; they saw him as an imperfect man in an important and necessary role. They had no issue resisting him if he was acting contrary to the received tradition, while still recognizing his august office.”

Notice what the Steubenvillain is doing here. He is effectively saying that the teachings of Popes Leo XIII, Pius X, and Pius XI (going by just the few examples quoted above) are wrong. Why are they wrong? Because, this master theologian maintains, they are at odds with “the 2,000-year totality of tradition”! But is that so? Who is the guarantor of Tradition if not the Pope?

Let’s have a look at the testimony of just one of the many Church Fathers, the second-century St. Irenaeus:

…tradition [is] derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church [at Rome], on account of its preeminent authority.

(St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, Book III, Chapter 3)

A little further on in the same chapter, St. Irenaeus lists the succession of Popes up to his time and then states: “In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth.”

If Eric Sammons had bothered to take a close look at the 19th and 20th-century Roman Pontiffs’ magisterial documents, he would have noticed that time and again they cite precisely the testimony of Tradition as their witness.

Thus, what Sammons caricatures and mocks as “the Catholic edition of a Delphic Oracle” is actually the genuine traditional Roman Catholic doctrine. The reason he rejects it is that it doesn’t fit his idea that Jorge Bergoglio (“Pope Francis”) is in fact a legitimate Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.

The One Peter Five author then proceeds to assert that his recognize-and-resist (“R&R”) view is found in Divine Revelation itself:

Of course [!], the foundation of the R&R position comes from Sacred Scripture. In Galatians 2:11, St. Paul tells us that when St. Peter, our first pope, wrongly removed himself from fellowship with uncircumscribed believers, Paul “opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.” The Apostle to the Gentiles did not reject Peter’s authority as leader of the Apostles, but he resisted him when Peter went against the Gospel.

It’s too bad the Popes didn’t remember that God’s Written Word contradicts their magisterial teaching, hey?

For Sammons to beat that dead horse of Galatians 2:11 again, without so much as trying to rehabilitate it against the refutations that (he must know) have long been given, shows that his post is not a serious effort at evaluating the recognize-and-resist position. Since we have dealt with the argument at length in a previous post, we will simply refer the interested reader to that:

Sammons continues:

Another historical example of R&R is from the life of Robert Grosseteste, a 13th century Bishop of Lincoln (England). Grosseteste was a giant of his time, and although he was never canonized, after his death many Catholics reverenced him as a saint, and many miracles were attributed to his heavenly intercession. But he wasn’t just a holy man—he was a leading intellect of his day, and Roger Bacon was his pupil.

In 1253, Pope Innocent IV ordered that a vacant canonry be given to his nephew. Bishop Grosseteste refused the command. He wrote a long letter to the papal nuncio explaining his decision, in which he stated:

It is well known that I am ready to obey apostolical commands with filial affection, and all devotion and reverence, but to those things which are opposed to apostolical commands I, in my zeal for the honor of my parent, am also opposed…In a filial and obedient spirit I disobey, I refuse, I rebel (filialiter, et obedienter non obedio, contradico et rebello).

[Footnote: Quoted in “The English Church: From the Norman Conquest to the Accession of Edward I” by W.R.W. Stephens (Macmillan and Co., London, 1909), p. 242]

That concluding line: “In a filial and obedient spirit I disobey, I refuse, I rebel” sums up the R&R position well. Following R&R is filial and obedient, because it adheres to the doctrines and practices of the Faith passed on to us all the way back to the apostles. It recognizes the pope as a legitimate father who normally must be obeyed. However, when the pope goes against “apostolical commands,” one cannot obey and must refuse.

(Eric Sammons, “Can Catholics ‘Recognize and Resist’?”, One Peter Five, Dec. 13, 2021)

So let us assume for a minute that Sammons has a point, that Bp. Grosseteste’s refusal to obey the Pope in that instance is a genuine counterexample to the doctrine of submission to the Pope. Even if it were so, it would not make for a terribly convincing argument: Why should one example of disobedience by an English bishop, one who is not even recognized by the Church as a saint, cancel out the doctrine given by the Supreme Pontiffs? In other words, if the Popes’ own teachings, laws, and liturgical discipline can be rejected by faithful Catholics, why not also the example of a simple bishop hundreds of years ago?

Secondly, the fact is that Bp. Grosseteste simply disobeyed a sinful singular command by the Pope. He did not reject the Pope’s magisterium, nor his laws, nor his sacramental rites, which is what the R&R camp does habitually. He simply refused to sin when the Pope told him to sin — and that is something that is not only permitted but obligatory, for “We ought to obey God, rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

The Pope can issue sinful commands (which must then be refused), but he cannot promulgate pernicious doctrines, much less heresies; he cannot issue sacrilegious sacramental rites; he cannot impose evil or harmful laws on the whole Church. We have argued this very case at length before as well:

Once again one must ask why Sammons simply regurgitates old arguments without at least attempting to re-validate them in light of their rebuttals.

Our Steubenvillain continues and brings up another historical case, that of St. Dunstan (959-988), Archbishop of Canterbury:

Grosseteste is not the only historical example of such an attitude toward the papacy, however. The famous 10th century Archbishop of Canterbury St. Dunstan once excommunicated a noble, who then went to Rome to get his excommunication lifted. Likely through bribery this lifting occurred. When the noble returned to England, St. Dunstan simply ignored the pope’s lifting of the excommunication and instead ordered it kept in place. St. Dunstan recognized the pope’s overall authority, but he resisted this illegitimate exercise of it.

A single quotation or at least source reference would have been very helpful here to allow the reader to verify for himself that Sammons isn’t just pulling this out of a hat. But then, serious theology and proper documentation isn’t the strong suit of One Peter Five.

Since Sammons didn’t bother to back up his claims, we could simply dismiss them out of hand. Instead, however, let’s do the work our opponent didn’t and consult some sources:

A story, resting on the authority of [his biographer] Adelard, shows him [St. Dunstan] in collision with the Pope himself for his principles. A man of high rank in England had married within the degrees of kinship forbidden by the Church and refused to forego his unblessed union. After repeated admonitions Dunstan excommunicated him. The angry earl went straight to Rome, laid his case before the Pope, and obtained from him written order to the Archbishop, requesting him to allow the marriage. Dunstan, writes Adelard, was true to his name, immovable as a stone, square and embedded in its setting. … At last the earl, alarmed for his own soul, came to public penance in Dunstan’s presence, was kept standing by him with feet bare and in penitent’s shirt, taper in hand, for an hour in front of a great assembly, and only then delivered from his ban of exile.

(Eleanor Shipley Duckett, Saint Dunstan of Canterbury [New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1955], pp. 98-99)

The author of the above passage cites a source for this account in turn. The source is the book Memorials of Saint Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, edited from various Manuscripts by William Stubbs, published in 1874. The pertinent pages are 67 and 200-201, which give Adelard’s account in Latin.

A translation of at least some of that account is given in the following English-language source:

[St. Dunstan] rebuked a certain noble-man often for his illicit marriage; but because he could not correct him he finally cut him off with the sword of the gospel of Christ [i.e. excommunication]. So the noble-man went off to Rome and prevailed upon the prince of the apostles [i.e. the Pope] to write on his behalf to Dunstan. Dunstan, true to his name [‘stone’ or ‘rugged’], as an unmoveable mountain, or as a stone fixed into the Corner-stone, could not be moved. Instead he persisted firm in his mind and superior in judgement to the mind of the apostle [i.e. Pope], saying to his ‘legate’, ‘Know that only the authority of my Lord will move me, not the threat of punishment!’

(Quoted in Douglas Dales, Dunstan: Saint and Statesman [Cambridge: James Clarke & Co, 2013], p. 53)

The precise details are a bit sketchy, but it appears to have been the case that the nobleman in question was in an incestuous relationship, which St. Dunstan knew he could not bless on account of it being contrary to the Divine Law (see 1 Cor 5:1). Through whatever maneuvers, the nobleman was able to get the Pope in Rome to deliver a command to St. Dunstan to allow the marriage to take place, or to revoke the excommunication and reconcile him to the Church, or perhaps both; but the good archbishop refused, since per Divine Law a sinful command must be disobeyed.

If this be a true account of the facts, then St. Dunstan essentially did the same thing that Bp. Grosseteste did: He refused to commit a sin, for he would obey God rather than a man, even the Pope. But this is not contrary to Catholic teaching, nor is it an argument for the recogonize-and-resist position, since it is possible for a Pope to issue a sinful command to an individual. What the Pope is incapable of doing is teaching sin, legislating sin, canonizing sinners as saints, or corrupting the Church’s sacramental or liturgical rites so that they become harmful to souls.

Interestingly enough, Sammons himself notices and admits the disparity that exists between his argumentation on the one hand, and the actual situation in the Vatican II Church on the other:

Some may argue that these historical examples are not the same as today’s papal errors and unjust commands. After all, no medieval pope, no matter how corrupt, ever tried to suppress the Mass of the Ages or undermine the Church’s perennial Eucharistic practice in regard to those in mortal sin. This is true.

Fantastic, he has seen the light! So what does he conclude? That his argumentation should be consigned to the flames?

Alas, no! He proceeds on the basis that he “believes” he is right nonetheless:

Yet I believe the principle still applies. In medieval times, politics and religion were not separate entities—if you opposed what we would call a pope’s “political” commands, you could very well be excommunicated, putting your eternal soul in jeopardy. In the medieval mind, there was a tight fusion between politics and religion, and so to resist a pope even for something we see today as political was a theological statement.

Er… what? “Political” commands? Soul in jeopardy? Medieval mind? This obscure passage is the crucial theological justification for his doctrinal position that essentially junks anything from the “Pope” he personally disagrees with? He places his personal opinion over the official teaching of the Church? Is this a joke?

Sammons further:

“Recognize and Resist” is a necessary viewpoint again today, one that allows the Catholic to live faithfully within the divinely-instituted Church while not allowing her human aspects to lead him astray. It doesn’t go down spiritual dead ends which question the legitimacy of the Church; nor does it succumb to an anti-intellectualism that wants to see black as white and up as down.

Hear ye, hear ye! The very principle he “believes” is applicable to our situation today, although he had to admit that none of the evidence he gave actually supports it and there is plenty of magisterial evidence against it, he pronounces to be a “necessary viewpoint” which “allows” a Catholic to be faithful! Whereas, of course, actually adhering loyally to the magisterium of the man Sammons himself insists is the Vicar of Christ on earth, does not allow one to be faithful, but instead hurls one beyond the gates of hell! What is this if not complete madness?

No, he can’t blame it on the “human aspect” of the Vatican II Church. He has gone so far as to declare in his recently-published book Deadly Indifference that “the Church lost her mission”! If the Catholic Church could lose her divinely-given charge (see Mt 28:19-20; Mk 16:15-16) on account of the sinfulness of her members, she would not be the Church founded by Jesus Christ! And if the official teachings, laws, saints, and liturgical rites of the Catholic Church are but the “human aspect” of the Church, what constitutes the divine aspect, pray tell? If the Church loses her mission, there is no further purpose to her existence: “But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men” (Mt 5:13).

Up is down, left is right, right is wrong in Recognize-and-Resist-Land. Our Blessed Lord, being infinitely wise and infinitely good, instituted the Supreme Pontificate as “bulletproof”, so to speak — He made it impervious to human weakness, lest His Church on earth be ruined by the very disease to cure which He had established the Church to begin with:

…the Church has received from on high a promise which guarantees her against every human weakness. What does it matter that the helm of the symbolic barque has been entrusted to feeble hands, when the Divine Pilot stands on the bridge, where, though invisible, He is watching and ruling? Blessed be the strength of his arm and the multitude of his mercies!

(Pope Leo XIII, Allocution to Cardinals, March 20, 1900; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, p. 349.)

In the tempest of earthly events, and in spite of the deficiency and weakness which may dim her luster to our eyes, [the Church] has the security of remaining imperturbably faithful to her mission to the end of time.

(Pope Pius XII, Allocution to the Cardinals, Dec. 24, 1944; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, n. 1142.)

The Pope has the divine promises; even in his human weaknesses, he is invincible and unshakable; he is the messenger of truth and justice, the principle of the unity of the Church; his voice denounces errors, idolatries, superstitions; he condemns iniquities; he makes charity and virtue loved.

(Pope Pius XII, Address Ancora Una Volta, Feb. 20, 1949)

How this teaching is verified in the Church’s history is illustrated in the following passage, which concerns the scandalous Pope John XII (955-964), quite possibly the most immoral Pope who ever reigned:

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.

At times John XII even became the defender of the threatened social order, of offended canon law, and of the religious life exposed to danger.

(Rev. Fernand Mourret, A History of the Catholic Church, Vol. 3 [St. Louis, MO: Herder Book Co., 1946], pp. 510-511)

More on that topic can be found in the following post:

But never mind. Eric Sammons has found a “necessary viewpoint” that “allows the Catholic to live faithfully within the divinely-instituted Church”! What salutary principle might this be? What supernatural assistance has been given to the Church to that effect? Is it perhaps, as Pope Leo XIII taught, “the Roman Pontificate”, which he noted was “the strong and effective instrument of salvation” (Allocution of Feb. 20, 1903; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, n. 653)?

Alas, no! It is the glorious R&R principle of accept what is good, reject what is bad! Who could have dreamed up a more pedestrian idea?

Our theological opponent ends his shoddy article as follows:

Yes, there are dangers to the R&R position. Resisting a pope can easily become rejecting a pope, and doing so would be practical Protestantism. We cannot make ourselves into individual popes, determining what is and what is not legitimate Catholic doctrine and practice. Yet at the same time, we have Tradition for a reason: so we can know what has been passed on to us from the apostles. If any Church leader—including the pope—acts or teaches in a manner contrary to that Tradition, it has always been the Catholic view that such an act or teaching can and should be resisted.

If this has always been the view — even though he admitted earlier that his historical examples aren’t sufficiently analogous — then surely some catechism, some dogmatic theology book, some official magisterial document should say that somewhere, should it not? If it’s something so obvious, so thoroughly rooted in Apostolic Tradition, why is it not noted anywhere? Why do we not find heaps of writings from Popes, bishops, doctors, theologians, etc., declaring that the faithful have the duty to sift the magisterium of the Roman Pontiff for heresy and other dangerous errors, which, once they find them, they must then resist with all their might, lest the Apostolic Faith be sullied and their souls be lost?

Suspecting that his R&R “viewpoint” is a bit too demanding for most his readers, who probably prefer to have a Church that teaches them rather than the other way around (cf. Eph 4:14; 1 Tim 3:15), Sammons counsels a more practical approach:

…I would say that for most laity a better outlook would be “Recognize and Mostly Ignore.” This, after all, was the viewpoint of Catholics before the advent of modern communications. The medieval English peasant didn’t know and didn’t care what the pope’s views were on every issue—he simply lived out his life of work, family, prayer, and sacraments in the context of his local parish church. While some must work to publicly resist things like unapostolical papal commands, simply living as a faithful Catholic without constant reference to the latest papal interviews, speeches, and actions can and should be the modus operandi of most Catholics today.

Phew! Now that is truly a practical approach, and so traditional: When the Pope teaches or governs, plug up your ears quickly so you won’t be misled by his latest heresies, blasphemies, or impious talk! That’s probably what Pope Benedict XV meant when he wrote that the Pope “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 there we go again with that nasty habit of consulting papal teachings to discover the Catholic position!

The reference to the proverbial English medieval peasant who didn’t know what the Pope was teaching, is a gigantic red herring, albeit an increasingly popular one, for here too there is a significant disparity to the situation today. Regardless of what the average peasant of a thousand years ago didn’t know about the papal magisterium, the point is that Eric Sammons today does know, and he is obliged — if Francis is indeed, as he believes, the Pope — to adhere to that teaching, just as the medieval peasant likewise would have been if he had known.

So now we know how One Peter Five wants to “restore Catholic Tradition” — unfortunately, it’s not with traditional Catholicism.

Sammons’ supporting statement that “To ‘Recognize and Resist’ is to live out Good Friday, not Easter Sunday”, may sound incredibly pious and profound, but it is gratuitous and quite impious. After all, one cannot accuse the Catholic Church of teaching the most serious errors — even of having “lost her mission”, as Sammons absurdly claims — and then smugly call it the “Passion of the Church”. That is a blasphemy!

No, Mr. Sammons, Catholics can’t “recognize and resist”.

But we’re glad you asked.

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