Powerful refutation of semi-trad star apologist
No Jekyll-and-Hyde Magisterium: Against the Theological Sophistry of Peter Kwasniewski
On May 26, 2022, One Peter Five published another article by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, the retired philosophy professor who is currently “rethinking the Papacy” in an effort to fit the square peg of Jorge Bergoglio (“Pope Francis”) into the round hole of the Petrine primacy:
- “How Protestants, Orthodox, Magisterialists, and Traditionalists Differ on the Three Pillars of Christianity” (Peter Kwasniewski)
The article’s chief contention is that the nature and role of the Church’s magisterium, specifically that of the Pope, has been unduly exaggerated by some to the detriment of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.
Who are the people he has in mind? He calls them “Reductive Catholics”, adding that “one could also [call them] Magisterial Catholics or Hyperpapalist Catholics, etc.” All this novel terminology is basically code for Sedevacantists and conservative Novus Ordos, who share the basically same pre-Vatican II understanding of the role of the Church’s teaching authority, especially that of the Papacy.
Kwasniewski writes of these “Magisterial Catholics” — as if a Catholic could be anything else — that they
exalt Magisterium—and, practically speaking, the papal office—above Scripture and Tradition, so that it becomes the sole principle by which we know truth. It becomes, in a sense, all truth, so that it would never be possible to challenge assertions of the Magisterium (e.g., Amoris Laetitia chapter 8 or the death penalty change to the Catechism) on the basis of Scripture and Tradition. As with the behavior of the other two groups, so with this one too: the exaggerated exaltation of the Magisterium ends up canceling out the Magisterium of preceding popes and councils. It turns into the “Magisterium of the moment,” much as Protestant preachers effectively privatize the Bible, or the Orthodox selectively appropriate Tradition, with no guidance about what is or is not fungible in Tradition.
This is the thesis the philosopher has come up with in an effort to reconcile traditional Catholicism with the apostate, heretical, blasphemous, or otherwise scandalous pronouncements of the man he recognizes as the Pope of the Catholic Church. That is, of course, an impossible task, but since he absolutely refuses to let go of the idea that the apostate from Buenos Aires is the current Vicar of Christ on earth, Kwasniewski has no choice but to minimize, condition, and relativize the Catholic magisterium to such an extent that it will fit into the idea of a Francis pontificate. That is what his project of rethinking the Papacy is all about.
We Sedevacantists, on the other hand, are not interested in rethinking anything. What we care about is retaining the true traditional Catholic doctrine. It need not be rethought, only rediscovered. Prof. Kwasniewski seems remarkably uninterested in doing that, however, perhaps out of fear of what he will find.
Pope Leo XIII made very clear that Catholics “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” (Encyclical Sapientiae Christianae, n. 21). Of course this teaching presents a problem for Dr. K because he identifies the apostate Novus Ordo Sect with the Catholic Church; and if that sect is the rule of Faith for the Catholic, then Catholicism is over.
Kwasniewski writes further:
The Roman Catholic, at least ideally, is one who holds all three pillars as foundational. Each illuminates the other, and none can stand without the other. Each of them is what it is only in and through the others. This means there may be times of confusion and disputation when it seems that claims based on one conflict with claims based on another. This is part of the “engine” of doctrinal development, but it is also a “check and balance” to ensure that none of the three becomes hypertrophic. For it is certainly unhealthy, and leads to distortions of doctrine and Church life, if the other two are allowed to atrophy.
These are some very confident assertions, but they are made without any evidence or documentation backing them up. Bummer.
It is good to see Dr. Kwasniewski express concern for “distortions of doctrine”, but in light of what he has been doing to the traditional Catholic teaching on the magisterium, such show of concern is not terribly convincing.
Now someone might say: “But isn’t the Magisterium the final court of appeal, the one that tells us what Scripture and Tradition mean or contain?” Yes, that’s true; but with some important caveats. Scripture is the inerrant and inspired Word of God. The Magisterium is not this, so it is inferior to it and at the service of it (as [the Vatican II document] Dei Verbum itself states: see n. 10). The universal ordinary Magisterium and the extraordinary Magisterium are infallible guides to and declarers of truth.
So the only time Kwasniewski cites any evidence for what he says, he appeals to a Vatican II document. Most of his readers won’t be terribly impressed by that.
Not that one could take issue with the particular point he makes, though: Indeed the Magisterium is at the service of Sacred Scripture and Tradition. But that is just the point: It is at their service. Kwasniewski holds that it merely should be at their service but isn’t necessarily. In other words, he believes that while it is the job of the Church’s magisterium to faithfully interpret Divine Revelation, there is no guarantee that it will in fact live up to its duty. And whenever it fails in that divinely commissioned task, to the great detriment of souls, then people like him get to jump in and set the magisterium straight. That such a preposterous position cannot be found in the Catholic teaching from before Vatican II, should hardly need mention.
Indeed, the professor seems to believe that God has endowed His Church with a perpetual teaching authority but that that teaching authority is ultimately unsafe for a Catholic to accept. Under the pretext that not every act of the magisterium is necessarily infallible (which is true), Kwasniewski reasons (incorrectly) that the magisterium could therefore propose heresy, blasphemy, and all kinds of other pernicious errors to the faithful, even ones already condemned in prior magisterial acts, and insist on their acceptance. When that happens, each Catholic will be well-advised to have the collected works of Peter Kwasniewski on hand to ward off the magisterial enemy of his soul!
What is this if not complete madness? Is the Catholic magisterium a chameleon? Did our Blessed Lord give to His Church a Jekyll-and-Hyde magisterium? Did Christ leave His flock with a teaching authority that valiantly defends Divine Revelation against heretics one day but then turns into an infernal monster the next, doing the heretics’ very bidding? And to top off the absurdity, are we to believe that it is the faithful’s job to figure out just when the magisterium is being Dr. Jekyll and when Mr. Hyde? When the Church has every right to receive our unwavering assent and loyalty, and when she not only does not have that right but must in fact be refused and rejected under pain of mortal sin and perhaps even heresy? What would be the point of such an ecclesiastical set-up, and how could anyone think that this is how the Good Shepherd feeds his lambs?
The ultimate horror: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Bergoglio
Kwasniewski’s thesis makes a mockery of God and His Church. The God who gave us Divine Revelation is the same God who gave us the Catholic magisterium as its authorized interpreter. With the Church’s divine right to teach the faithful comes the faithful’s duty of accepting that teaching. Although that teaching is not always guaranteed to be without all error, it is at least guaranteed to be infallibly safe for souls. This only makes sense, for God demands our strict adherence to it, and He could not do that if at the same time this adherence could lead us away from Him and put our soul at risk.
In his great 1950 encyclical letter Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII reminded the faithful that assent is owed to the teaching of the Roman Pontiff not because he is always infallible — he is not — but because he is the divinely-appointed teacher:
Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: “He who heareth you, heareth me” [Lk 10:16]; and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine.
(Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Humani Generis, n. 20; underlining added.)
This is a critical point: Pius XII teaches that a Catholic must assent to magisterial teaching per se, not just per accidens. In other words, we must assent to the teaching of the Pope because it is the teaching of the Pope. Kwasniewski, by contrast, holds that we must assent to the teaching of the Pope only if and to the extent that we find this teaching to be compatible with Scripture and Tradition. What evidence does he give for this daring thesis? None, and that is not surprising, because he cannot. He cannot because it is not taught — note well, Dr. K — in either Scripture, or Tradition, or the pre-Vatican II magisterium. How ironic!
Although it is clear that we are not permitted to assent to what goes contrary to God’s Revelation (cf. Gal 1:8-9), the true Catholic position differs significantly from what Dr. Kwasniewski is dishing up. For the retired philosophy professor, the compatibility with Scripture and Tradition is the condition for the papal magisterium’s acceptance by the faithful. But for the real Catholic, this compatibility is the guaranteed effect that flows from God’s assistance to the teaching authority He Himself has established. Otherwise, what would be the point of the magisterium? Why not just have Scripture and Tradition then?
Kwasniewski’s understanding of how the magisterium binds the faithful is thus entirely a posteriori: First the Pope teaches, then the faithful determine whether the teaching is correct (compatible with Divine Revelation), and upon a positive verification, the teaching is recognized as binding. However, the truth is that the magisterium binds a priori: The Pope teaches, and by that very fact alone the faithful are already bound, regardless of the content of the teaching. The binding nature of the papal magisterium is grounded in the fact that the divinely-appointed teaching authority is carrying out the task for which it was established (cf. Mt 16:19; 28:19-20; Lk 22:32; Jn 16:13; Heb 13:17).
Interestingly enough, Kwasniewki’s idea of papal teaching first needing to be vetted by the Pope’s inferiors to ensure it is sound and therefore safe for others to accept, is positively ruled out by Catholic teaching:
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. 22, 24; underlining added.)
The Papacy, we must remember, is a divine institution and therefore enjoys God’s assistance. We need not fear that we will be misled by the Pope’s magisterium, because God Himself guarantees that what the Pope teaches will be compatible with Divine Revelation and therefore safe for a Catholic to accept.
Prof. Kwasniewski may deride all this as the “magisterium of the moment”, but it poses no problem for real Catholics, since they know and believe that the Catholic magisterium is supported by the divine assistance: “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).
Kwasniewski’s contention that the faithful must be able to “challenge” the magisterium with Scripture and Tradition shows that he has not understood how things work in the Church. Once again Pope Leo XIII sets him straight:
By certain indications it is not difficult to conclude that among Catholics – doubtless as a result of current evils – there are some who, far from satisfied with the condition of “subject” which is theirs in the Church, think themselves able to take some part in her government, or at least, think they are allowed to examine and judge after their own fashion the acts of authority. A misplaced opinion, certainly. If it were to prevail, it would do very grave harm to the Church of God, in which, by the manifest will of her Divine Founder, there are to be distinguished in the most absolute fashion two parties: the teaching and the taught, the Shepherd and the flock, among whom there is one who is the head and the Supreme Shepherd of all.
To the shepherds alone was given all power to teach, to judge, to direct; on the faithful was imposed the duty of following their teaching, of submitting with docility to their judgment, and of allowing themselves to be governed, corrected, and guided by them in the way of salvation. Thus, it is an absolute necessity for the simple faithful to submit in mind and heart to their own pastors, and for the latter to submit with them to the Head and Supreme Pastor. In this subordination and dependence lie the order and life of the Church; in it is to be found the indispensable condition of well-being and good government. On the contrary, if it should happen that those who have no right to do so should attribute authority to themselves, if they presume to become judges and teachers, if inferiors in the government of the universal Church attempt or try to exert an influence different from that of the supreme authority, there follows a reversal of the true order, many minds are thrown into confusion, and souls leave the right path.
(Pope Leo XIII, Apostolic Letter Epistola Tua; underlining added.)
Apparently the idea of submitting to the magisterium rather than questioning it is new to Kwasniewski. To a Catholic it’s the most natural thing in the world. Echoing Leo XIII, Popes Pius XI and Pius XII explicitly reprobated the idea of summoning the teachings of the Apostolic See to one’s own tribunal:
Wherefore, let the faithful also be on their guard against the overrated independence of private judgment and that false autonomy of human reason. For it is quite foreign to everyone bearing the name of a Christian to trust his own mental powers with such pride as to agree only with those things which he can examine from their inner nature, and to imagine that the Church, sent by God to teach and guide all nations, is not conversant with present affairs and circumstances; or even that they must obey only in those matters which she has decreed by solemn definition as though her other decisions might be presumed to be false or putting forward insufficient motive for truth and honesty. Quite to the contrary, a characteristic of all true followers of Christ, lettered or unlettered, is to suffer themselves to be guided and led in all things that touch upon faith or morals by the Holy Church of God through its Supreme Pastor the Roman Pontiff, who is himself guided by Jesus Christ Our Lord.
(Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Casti Connubii, n. 104; underlining added.)
Let no one take from you the glory of that rectitude in doctrine and fidelity in obedience due to the Vicar of Christ; among your ranks let there be no room for that “free examination” more fitting to the heterodox mentality than to the pride of the Christian, and according to which no one hesitates to summon before the tribunal of his own judgment even those things which have their origin in the Apostolic See.
(Pope Pius XII, Allocution to the General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, Sept. 10, 1957; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, n. 1483; underlining added.)
Alas, Dr. K would surely want to challenge these papal pronouncements as well — all under the mantle of “traditional Catholicism”, no doubt. Why does anyone take the man seriously?
It is clear that the Papacy is a most beautiful and powerful gift God has bestowed upon His Church, one that guarantees the orthodoxy and cohesion of the entire Mystical Body of Christ. It is for that reason that “the most deadly foes of the Catholic religion have always waged a fierce war, but without success, against this Chair [of St. Peter]; 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” (Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Inter Multiplices, n. 7).
What would be the alternative to the papal magisterium, anyway? Shall we substitute the articles and lectures of Dr. Kwasniewski for the ecclesiastical teaching authority established by Christ?
In his book on Sacred Tradition and Scripture, the Austrian Cardinal John Franzelin (1816-1886) explains that just because a magisterial teaching is not infallible does not mean it is not guaranteed to be safe to embrace:
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].)
In fact, when looking over the magisterial pronouncements regarding the Church’s teaching authority and the faithful’s obligation of loyal adherence as a safeguard of orthodoxy, no other conclusion is possible than that nothing the Church gives to her children could be dangerous to their souls. And this only makes sense! Why would Christ establish a Church as the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15) to guide souls to Heaven and then allow her to teach the foulest of errors except on the extremely rare occasion of an ex cathedra statement?
Kwasniewski goes on:
The problem arises in areas in which the Magisterium could be in error, and the problem is when people say something like: “I don’t care what Scripture says about ABC; Pope Francis says XYZ, and that’s what we have to follow.” Or “It sure seems like Scripture says ABC, but Francis says it means XYZ, so that’s what it must mean.” Or: “It doesn’t matter if the Church has uninterruptedly believed or done ABC; Francis has issued a motu proprio that says we should believe or do the opposite, and that’s the end of the matter.” Roma locuta, causa finita cannot mean “Rome has spoken; the Bible and the witness of the Church is irrelevant.”
The professor describes a problem that one only runs into if one accepts the public apostate Jorge Bergoglio as the Pope of the Catholic Church, as the divine assistance is clearly lacking in the man. Rather than concluding, however, that his claim to being the Pope must therefore be false — or at least raising the question as to his legitimacy — Dr. K decides to attack (“rethink”) the traditional doctrine. That is the only option he has left, for if Francis’ claim to being the Pope is not in error, then the doctrine of the Papacy must be. Curiously, the concern he expressed earlier about “distortions of doctrine” is nowhere to be found now.
So in effect Kwasniewski is saying that he considers the legitimacy of Francis’ claim to being Pope as more certain than the Papacy itself. But of course that is absurd, for whereas God has revealed the Papacy, He has not revealed that Bergoglio is Pope! How tragic, therefore, that Dr. Kwasniewski shows himself so ready to flirt with heresy by tinkering with the doctrine — rushing in where angels fear to tread — while absolutely refusing to question the legitimacy of the apostate from Buenos Aires. Is this reasonable?
Stubborn acceptance of Francis and his charlatan predecessors leads to the absurd situation in which the semi-trads now find themselves: that the Pope could use his magisterium to teach condemned doctrines, ideas that Catholics know to be false and at odds with prior doctrine, even with Divine Revelation itself. It is an utterly grotesque state of affairs — if it is not rejected as impossible, it will necessarily lead to grotesque theology. And that is what Dr. Kwasniewski now specializes in.
As I said before, each [pillar] has a certain primacy with respect to the others. That is why no one should ever give up lectio divina (prayerful reading of Scripture) in favor of a “lectio ecclesiastica” where the sole reading material would be papal documents. Nor should anyone ever given up a traditional lex orandi in favor of a newly constructed one, based on the latest model of the lex credendi according to a Vatican chief. This is why the documents of the Magisterium themselves have been careful—certainly in past times—to cite thoroughly from Scripture and other traditional sources in order to show that the official teaching derives from the witnesses on which the Faith is based. And it explains why Christianity will always corrupt if there is only Scripture and Tradition, without a final authority that can resolve either difficult questions or questions that may not be difficult in themselves but have become difficult due to bad intellectual habits or disordered concupiscence (e.g., the ban on contraception). Without a teaching authority, a Magisterium, the voices of Scripture and Tradition can be garbled or suffocated.
Kwasniewski is not making sense, and that is not surprising. He is trying to steer a middle course between “extremes”, but since his argumentation is not sound, he cannot convincingly accomplish the task he has set for himself.
Consider what he says above. He is essentially claiming that Catholics ought to read Sacred Scripture in order to keep the papal magisterium on the straight and narrow, or at least to keep themselves from being tainted by whatever injurious errors the Church’s teaching authority may impose upon them with the next release of official documents. At the same time, however, the professor also argues that this very magisterium that is capable of poisoning souls who don’t read Scripture prayerfully enough, is nevertheless also the teaching authority that keeps “the voices of Scripture and Tradition [from being] garbled or suffocated”, even Christianity from corrupting — at least whenever it’s not busy corrupting Christianity by garbling and suffocating Scripture and Tradition itself!
Does Peter Kwasniewski ever think about what he writes before he publishes it?
A little further on in his article, the professor warns against absolutizing the Church’s magisterium:
The third absolutism, solo Magisterio [“the Magisterium alone”], has been the strange reserve of Roman Catholicism—strange because it is inherently less plausible than the other two [“Scripture alone” and “Tradition alone”]. When the Magisterium’s authority is taken as an absolute, it trumps not only all Scripture and all Tradition but also all previous acts of the Magisterium. Only what the current papal monarch says carries weight. Those living under such a mindset have to embrace today’s papal statements wholeheartedly, but they have to drop them just as thoroughly if the next Pope says something different or new. Anything else would deny the current Pope’s absolute authority. Consequently, on this view there is no content definitive of Catholicism.
What Kwasniewski denounces here as “magisterial absolutism” — later he calls it “Magisteriumitis” — is a magisterium disconnected from Divine Revelation, according to which the Pope can teach his own arbitrary ideas rather than the true Faith (or doctrine compatible with it), and by that very fact these strange tenets constitute Catholicism. Such a view is perhaps the conclusion one must logically come to if one accepts Francis as Pope, but it is obviously completely incompatible with Catholic doctrine and must be rejected. Yet, who actually holds it? Who in the Novus Ordo Church believes that the content of Catholicism is re-created from scratch whenever the Pope teaches, trumping even Divine Revelation in the Bible and Tradition? Who believes that? Kwasniewski does not identify anyone in particular, and that is not surprising. Not even the outlandish Francis defenders of the Where Peter Is… web site take such a ridiculous view.
Nor do we Sedevacantists, of course. In fact, our position is the one actually taught by the Church, which Dr. Kwasniewski strangely does not mention, namely: The faithful must assent to the teachings of the current (living) magisterium at all times, and this adherence to the magisterium assures their orthodoxy; that is, it guarantees that they are embracing nothing that is contrary to Scripture or Tradition but only what is of the Catholic Faith or compatible with it.
That is certainly what was taught by Pope Leo XIII:
But as the Church was to last to the end of time, something more was required besides the bestowal of the Sacred Scriptures. It was obviously necessary that the Divine Founder should take every precaution, lest the treasure of heavenly-given truths, possessed by the Church, should ever be destroyed, which would assuredly have happened, had He left those doctrines to each one’s private judgment. It stands to reason, therefore, that a living, perpetual “magisterium” was necessary in the Church from the beginning, which, by the command of Christ himself, should besides teaching other wholesome doctrines, give an authoritative explanation of Holy Writ, and which being directed and safeguarded by Christ himself, could by no means commit itself to erroneous teaching. God has provided for these needs most wisely and effectively through His Only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, Who placed the true sense of the Scriptures in safety, when He laid upon His Apostles as His primary and most momentous injunction, not to devote themselves to writing, nor to spreading the volumes of the Old Testament indiscriminately and unguardedly among the multitude, but to teach all nations with the living voice, and to lead them by speech to the knowledge and profession of His Heavenly doctrine: “Going into the whole world preach the Gospel to every creature.” (Mark xvi. 15.) But the supreme teaching authority was committed to one, on whom, as on its foundation, the Church must rest. For Christ when He gave the keys to Peter, gave him at the same time the power to govern those who were charged with the “ministry of the word:” “Confirm thy Brethren” (Luke xxii. 32). And since the faithful must learn from the “magisterium” of the Church whatever pertains to the salvation of their souls, it follows that they must also learn from it the true meaning of Scripture.
It is easy to perceive how unsafe, how inadequate, and how useless is the method propounded by those who think that the only way to interpret Scripture is by the help of Scripture itself. For on that principle the ultimate law of interpretation would rest with the individual judgment. But, as we have already stated, each one will undertake the reading of Scripture with entirely different feelings, views, and prepossessions, and will interpret God’s written Word accordingly. The result will be that those divergent interpretations will necessarily produce discussions and disputes, and thus turn what was intended as a source of union and peace into a source of contention and strife.
The truth of what We have just stated is proven by what has actually taken place since, of all the sects, deprived as they are of the Catholic Faith and disagreeing among themselves on religious matters, each one claims that its own teaching and practices are in accord with Holy Writ. There is no gift of God so sacred, that man cannot abuse it to his own detriment; since, according to the stern warning of Blessed Peter, “the unlearned and unstable wrest” the very Scriptures “to their own destruction” (2 Peter iii., 16). Hence [St.] Irenaeus, who lived shortly after the Apostolic age, and who is a faithful interpreter of Apostolic doctrine, always taught that a knowledge of the truth could only be had from the living voice of the Church: “Where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God, and where the spirit of God is found, there is the Church and all grace, and the Spirit is truth” – (Adv. Haer. Iib. iii.). “Where, therefore, the gifts of God are placed, it is necessary to learn the truth from those who have in the Church the Apostolic Succession” – (Adv. Haer. Iib. iv.). And if Catholics, who may differ on all other matters, are found united in marvellous concord in the faith, there can be no doubt that this is chiefly owing to the authority and power of the “magisterium.”
(Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Caritatis Studium, nn. 6-8; underlining added.)
This is the position every Catholic must hold, and it is evidently not Kwasniewski’s position. Why does the professor not bring this up as the correct view? Because it is not verified in the Novus Ordo magisterium. The above teaching reveals itself as manifestly false if the Vatican II magisterium is accepted as the Catholic magisterium.
No wonder Dr. K is currently “rethinking” the Papacy. His theological position is not deduced from Catholic teaching, it is arrived at inductively from the needs of the predicament in which he finds himself. In other words, he does not look to Catholic teaching so as to draw a conclusion about the validity of Francis’ claim to being the Pope; rather, he starts with the idea that Francis must be the true Pope and then reasons from there to what the Catholic teaching would have to be in order to allow him to “conclude” that, although Francis is Pope, his magisterium is optional at best and sometimes must be rejected. This imaginary pseudo-doctrine is what he now proposes as the true Catholic position. How repulsive!
In the following paragraph, Kwasniewski indicates that what’s driving his theology is having to find a way to dismiss Francis’ teachings without dismissing him:
For example, Pope Francis’s absurd teaching that capital punishment is “per se contrary to the Gospel,” “inadmissible” and “immoral,” and “abases human dignity,” stands against the triple witness of Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium, and therefore cannot be accepted by a Catholic. If such a “development” were possible, no reversal in Catholic teaching would be impossible, because any change whatsoever could be justified by the same kind of evolutionary dialectic invoked for the death penalty change.
Yes, that is the absurdity that results when one accepts as Pope a man who is obviously not one. The result is that the Papacy becomes meaningless at best, indeed an acute and grave danger to the salvation of souls.
The retired philosophy professor concludes his piece as follows:
In this sense, then, the Catholic traditionalist of today is simply a Catholic who is free from the mental disease of Magisteriumitis and who strives, in his faith, his life, his thought, to hold together the three pillars of original Tradition, namely, written Tradition, unwritten Tradition, and the guardianship of Tradition.
Pity the poor Catholics of the better part of Church history who had no direct access to either Scripture or Tradition, or could not even so much as read, and so had no choice but to rely on the magisterium alone! For well over a millennium, they were condemned to a chronic case of Magisteriumitis!
How odd that in this final paragraph Kwasniewski refers to the magisterium as “the guardianship of Tradition” again, when he just dismissed Francis’ magisterium as “absurd”. If, however, the magisterium does in fact guard written and unwritten Tradition, why should the faithful not assent to its teachings at all times? Isn’t that the point of the magisterium?
One should not expect consistency from Prof. K because the position he is proposing is false, that is, it is not in fact the position found in the Catholic theology books or catechisms, much less in the magisterial documents from before Vatican II. If it were, he would have simply quoted from those sources. Instead, he advances a thesis he has cobbled together from various elements of Catholicism while leaving out of account other crucial Catholic data that contradicts it.
It is the crowning irony of his whole project that this novel understanding of the papal magisterium he is putting forward is found neither in Tradition, nor in Scripture, nor in the magisterium. It is found only in the theological needs of recognize-and-resist traditionalism, for which it has been custom-tailored.
At one point in his article, Kwasniewski takes issue with the notion of adhering to the teaching of the magisterium simply because it is the teaching of the magisterium:
The Catholic fideist [sic] believes something “because the Magisterium says so,” without recognizing that the Magisterium is a servant of that which is prior and more authoritative to it, namely, the written and unwritten Word of God, and the sum total of ecclesiastical tradition that embodies and expresses this Word.
As we saw earlier, according to the traditional doctrine, which Kwasniewski has been ignoring all this time since it would expose his own position as untenable, the Catholic must assent to magisterial teaching precisely “because the magisterium says so”; because that magisterium is, as Pope Pius XII reminded all Catholics (see Humani Generis, n. 20), the divinely-appointed teacher (cf. Lk 10:16); and by adhering to this teacher Catholics “are certain that [they] cannot be deceived or betrayed” (Pope Pius IX, Letter Didicimus Non Sine; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, n. 439).
Contrary to the distortion of traditional Catholic doctrine that is found among the recognize-and-resist trads, especially the Lefebvrists of the Society of St. Pius X, the real Catholic position is that the magisterium is the proximate rule of Faith for the Catholic, with Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition being the remote rules of Faith. Loyal adherence to the magisterium is the ultimate criterion of orthodoxy because God has set up the Church in such a way that by adhering to the magisterium we are guaranteed to be safe from heresy or any other error that could harm our souls.
This was taught by none other than Pope St. Pius X in an outstanding discourse given to Catholic university students on May 10, 1909:
…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.”
(Pope Pius X, Address Con Vera Soddisfazione; in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, vol. I (1909), pp. 461-464; underlining added.)
By being loyal to the magisterium, we can rest assured that we are being loyal to the Deposit of Faith. That is the purpose of the Catholic magisterium, the very reason for its existence; “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 4:14). That is what distinguishes the Catholic Church from heretical sects and guarantees her fidelity to the truth:
For, whereas such societies are destitute of that living authority established by God, which especially teaches men what is of Faith, and what the rule of morals, and directs and guides them in all those things which pertain to eternal salvation, so they have continually varied in their doctrines, and this change and variation is ceaselessly going on among them. Every one must perfectly understand, and clearly and evidently see, that such a state of things is directly opposed to the nature of the Church instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ; for in that Church truth must always continue firm and ever inaccessible to all change, as a deposit given to that Church to be guarded in its integrity, for the guardianship of which the presence and aid of the Holy Ghost have been promised to the Church for ever.
(Pope Pius IX, Apostolic Letter Iam Vos Omnes)
We have thus amply proven what is the genuine traditional Catholic position. Or were all the Popes we have quoted wrong? Were they in over their heads? Did they mislead the faithful? Did they all engage in a dangerous “exaggeration” of the true teaching? Were they all afflicted with perpetual Magisteriumitis?
On the other hand, what evidence has Dr. Kwsaniewski presented for his position? None. He has merely offered his own musings about what he thinks Catholic teaching should be. That is less than impressive, especially considering that he has no authorization from his own hierarchy to be instructing people on theological matters to begin with. He loves to talk about the limits of the Papacy but appears to forget his own.
His thesis is essentially that Christ has given to His Church a shady Jekyll-and-Hyde magisterium that teaches, at times, the Gospel truth and, at other times, damnable heresy or other dangerous errors; and so for that reason, the faithful should never submit to the magisterium blindly but should first vet its pronouncements for compatibility with Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. What utter theological sophistry! What blasphemous lunacy!
If he wants to be a faithful traditional Catholic, Kwasniewski will have to take his cue from Pope St. Pius X, who exhorts us “to regard the Magisterium of the Church as sacred, to defend the doctrine handed down inviolately by the Fathers and, what is of highest importance to the safeguarding of Catholic truth, to follow and obey the Successor of St. Peter with the greatest faith” (Apostolic Letter Tuum Illud).
Likewise, he ought to hearken to the words of Pope Pius IX, who pointed out that although all other bishops may fail in their teaching office, the Roman Pontiff will not:
But, you may say, it could happen that one or another of these guides [the Church’s pastors] might not point out the true path. Yes, that could be, for the Catholic Church is spread over the entire surface of the globe, and since it occupies an expanse which I can only call immense, it could happen that someone might forget the truth, and, having forgotten it, would be unable to teach it to others. In that case as in every other, you have the Holy See, you have the Supreme Pastor, who will recall to the truth him who strays and who will say to those who call themselves “Old Catholics”, as also to ‘deformed’ and ‘halting’ Catholics, to those who wish to subject the inalienable laws of religion to the exigencies of politics, and to those who, without being rationalists in the strict sense, nonetheless refuse to submit to authority — to all of them he will say, in the very words of Christ: Qui non colligit mecum dispergit. “He that gathereth not with me, scattereth” [Lk 11:23]. He will say to all of them that he who is not united to the Pope cannot hope to reap: he is sowing the wind and will never harvest fruit, unless it be the fruit of iniquity.
(Allocution to German pilgrims, May 13, 1875; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, n. 430; underlining added.)
Kwasniewski cannot accept this, because he doesn’t actually have a Pope.
He only has Jorge Bergoglio.
Title image source: composite with element from Shutterstock (Hunterframe)
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