Tag: magisterium

Popes Fallible

Popes Fallible posted in Eleison Comments on September 13, 2014

Neither liberals nor sedevacantists appreciate being told that they are like heads and tails of the same coin, but it is true. For instance, neither of them can conceive of a third alternative. See for instance in his Letter to Three Bishops of April 14, 2012 , how Bishop Fellay could see no alternative to his liberalism except sedevacantism. Conversely, for many a sedevacantist if one accepts that any of the Conciliar Popes has really been Pope, then one can only be a liberal, and if one criticises sedevacantism, then one is promoting liberalism. But not at all!

Why not? Because both of them are making the same error of exaggerating the Pope’s infallibility. Why? Might it be because both of them are modern men who believe more in persons than in institutions? And why should that be a feature of modern men? Because from more or less Protestantism onwards, fewer and fewer institutions have truly sought the common good, while more and more seek some private interest such as money (my claim on you), which of course diminishes our respect for them. For instance, good men saved for a while the rotten institution of modern banking from having immediately all its evil effects, but the rotten banksters are at last showing what the institutions of fractional reserve banking and central banks were, in themselves, from the beginning. The Devil is in modern structures, thanks to the enemies of God and man.

So it is understandable if modern Catholics have tended to put too much faith in the Pope and too little in the Church, and here is the answer to that reader who asked me why I do not write about infallibility in the same way that the classic Catholic theology manuals do. Those manuals are marvellous in their way, but they were all written before Vatican II, and they tended to attach to the Pope an infallibility which belongs to the Church. For instance, the summit of infallibility is liable to be presented in the manuals as a solemn definition by the Pope, or by Pope with Council, but in any case by the Pope. The liberal-sedevacantist dilemma has been the consequence and, as it were, a punishment of this tendency to overrate the person and underrate the institution, because the Church is no merely human institution.

For, firstly, the Solemn Magisterium’s snow-cap on the Ordinary Magisterium’s mountain is its summit only in a very limited way – it is completely supported by the rock summit beneath the snow. And secondly, by the Church’s most authoritative text on infallibility, the Definition of the truly Catholic Council of Vatican I (1870), we know that the Pope’s infallibility comes from the Church, and not the other way round. When the Pope engages all four conditions necessary for ex cathedra teaching, then, says the Definition, he possesses “that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine.” But of course! Where else can infallibility come from, except from God? The best of human beings, and some Popes have been very good human beings, may be inerrant, i.e. make no mistakes, but as long as they have original sin they cannot be infallible as God alone can be. If they are infallible, the infallibility must come through, but from outside, their humanity, from God, who chooses to bestow it through the Catholic Church, and that infallibility need only be a momentary gift, for the duration of the Definition.

Therefore outside of a Pope’s ex cathedra moments, nothing stops him from talking nonsense such as the new religion of Vatican II. Therefore neither liberals nor sedevacantists need or should heed that nonsense, because, as Archbishop Lefebvre said, they have 2000 years’ worth of Ordinarily infallible Church teaching by which to judge that it is nonsense.

Kyrie eleison.


Tradition posted in Eleison Comments on July 19, 2014

The word “Magisterium,” coming from the Latin for “master” (“magister”), means in the Church either the Church’s authoritative teaching or its authorised teachers. Now as teacher is superior to taught, so the Magisterium teaching is superior to the Catholic people being taught. But the Catholic Masters have free-will, and God leaves them free to err. Then if they err gravely, may the people stand up to them and tell them, however respectfully, that they are wrong? The question is answered by truth. It is only when most people have lost the truth, as today, that the question can become confused.

On the one hand it is certain that Our Lord endowed his Church with a teaching authority, to teach us fallible human beings that Truth which alone can get us to Heaven – “Peter, confirm they brethren.” On the other hand Peter was only to confirm them in that faith which Our Lord had taught him – “I have prayed that thy faith fail not, and thou being converted, confirm thy brethren” (Lk. XXII, 32). In other words that faith governs Peter which it is his function only to guard and expound faithfully, such as it was deposited with him, the Deposit of Faith, to be handed down for ever as Tradition. Tradition teaches Peter, who teaches the people.

Vatican I (1870) says the same thing. Catholics must believe “all truths contained in the word of God or handed down by Tradition” and which the Church puts forward as divinely revealed, by its Extraordinary or Ordinary Universal Magisterium (one recalls that without Tradition in its broadest sense, there would have been no “word of God,” or Bible). Vatican I says moreover that this Magisterium is gifted with the Church’s infallibility, but this infallibility excludes any novelty being taught. Then Tradition in its broadest sense governs what the Magisterium can say it is, and while the Magisterium has authority to teach inside Tradition, it has no authority to teach the people anything outside of Tradition.

Yet souls do need a living Magisterium to teach them the truths of salvation inside Catholic Tradition. These truths do not change any more than God or his Church change, but the circumstances of the world in which the Church has to operate are changing all the time, and so according to the variety of these circumstances the Church needs living Masters to vary all the time the presentation and explanation of the unvarying truths. Therefore no Catholic in his right mind disputes the need for the Church’s living Masters.

But what if these Masters claim that something is inside Tradition which is not there? On the one hand they are learned men, authorised by the Church to teach the people, and the people are relatively ignorant. On the other hand there is for instance the famous case of the Council of Ephesus (428), where the people rose up in Constantinople to defend the divine Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary against the heretical Patriarch Nestor.

The answer is that objective truth is above Masters and people alike, so that if the people have the truth on their side, they are superior to their Masters if the Masters do not have the truth. On the other hand if the people do not have the truth, thay have no right to rise up against the Masters. In brief, if they are right, they have the right. If they are not right, they have no right. And what tells if they are right or not? Neither Masters (necessarily), nor people (still less necessarily), but reality, even if Masters or people, or both, conspire to smother it.

Kyrie eleison.

Church Infallibility – V

Church Infallibility – V posted in Eleison Comments on May 31, 2014

Liberalism is war on God, and it is the dissolution of truth. Within today’s Church crippled by liberalism, sedevacantism is an understandable reaction, but it still credits authority with too much power over truth. The modern world has lost natural truth, let alone supernatural truth, and here is the heart of the problem.

For our purposes we might divide all papal teaching into three parts. Firstly, if the Pope teaches as Pope, on Faith or morals, definitively and so as to bind all Catholics, then we have his Extraordinary Magisterium (EM for short), necessarily infallible. Secondly, if he does not engage all four conditions but teaches in line with what the Church has always and everywhere taught and imposed on Catholics to believe, then he is partaking in what is called the Church’s “Ordinary Universal Magisterium” (OUM for short), also infallible. Thirdly we have the rest of his teaching, which, if it is out of line with Tradition, is not only fallible but also false.

By now it should be clear that the EM is to the OUM as snow-cap is to mountain. The snow-cap does not make the summit of the mountain, it merely makes it more visible. EM is to OUM as servant to master. It exists to serve the OUM by making clear once and for all what does or does not belong to the OUM. But what makes the rest of the mountain visible, so to speak, is its being traceable back to Our Lord and his Apostles, in other words, Tradition. That is why every EM definition is at pains to show that what is being defined was always previously part of Tradition. It was mountain before it was covered in snow.

By now it should also be clear that Tradition tells the Popes what to teach, and not the other way round. This is the basis on which Archbishop Lefebvre founded the Traditional movement, yet it is this same basis which, with all due respect, liberals and sedevacantists fail to grasp. Just see in the Gospel of St John how often Our Lord himself, as man, declares that what he is teaching comes not from himself but from his Father, for instance: “My doctrine is not mine but his that sent me” (VII, 16), or, “I have not spoken from out of myself; but the Father who sent me, he gave me commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak” (XII, 49). Of course nobody on earth is more authorized than the Pope to tell Church and world what is in Tradition, but he cannot tell Church or world that there is in Tradition what is not in it. What is in it is objective, now 2,000 years old, it is above the Pope and it sets limits to what a Pope can teach , just as the Father’s commandment set limits to what Christ as man would teach.

Then how can liberals and sedevacantists alike claim, in effect, that the Pope is infallible even outside of both EM and OUM? Because both overrate authority in relation to truth, and so they see Church authority no longer as the servant but as the master of truth. And why is that? Because they are both children of the modern world where Protestantism defied the Truth and liberalism ever since the French Revolution has been dissolving objective truth. And if there is no longer any objective truth, then of course authority can say whatever it can get away with, which is what we observe all around us, and there is nothing left to stop a Paul VI or a Bishop Fellay from becoming more and more arbitrary and tyrannical in the process.

Mother of God, obtain for me to love, discern and defend that Truth and order coming from the Father, both supernatural and natural, to which your own Son was as man subject, “unto death, even to the death of the Cross.”

Kyrie eleison.

Benedict’s Thinking – IV

Benedict’s Thinking – IV posted in Eleison Comments on May 24, 2014

To Cardinal Newman is attributed a wise comment on the 1870 definition of the Pope’s infallibility: “It left him as it found him.” Indeed that definition will have changed nothing in the Pope’s power to teach infallibly, because it belongs to the unchanging nature of God’s true Church that God will protect it from error, at least when its supreme teaching authority is engaged. All such engagement is now called the Church’s “Extraordinary Magisterium,” but only the name can have been new in 1870, just like the name of the “Ordinary Universal Magisterium.” If Vatican I declared the latter also to be infallible, it must also have been so from the beginning of the Church. To discern the realities behind the two names, let us go back to that beginning.

By the time Our Lord ascended to Heaven, he had with his divine infallibility entrusted to his Apostles a body of doctrine which they were to hand down intact to his Church to the end of the world (Mt. XXVIII, 19–20), doctrine which all souls were to believe on pain of damnation (Mk. XVI, 15–16). This Deposit of the Faith, or public Revelation, God was bound to make recognisable and accessible to souls of good will, because obviously the true God could never condemn eternally a soul for refusing to believe in an untruth. By the death of the last Apostle this Deposit was not only infallible but also complete.

Then from the Apostles onwards would God protect all churchmen from ever teaching error? By no means. Our Lord warned us to beware of “false prophets” (Mt. VII, 15), and St Paul likewise warned against “ravening wolves” (Acts, XX, 29–30). But how could God permit such a danger to his sheep from erring pastors? Because he wants for his Heaven neither robot pastors nor robot sheep, but pastors and sheep that will both have used the mind and free-will he gave them to teach or follow the Truth. And if a mass of pastors betray, he can always raise a St Athanasius or an Archbishop Lefebvre, for instance, to ensure that his infallible Truth remains always accessible to souls.

Nevertheless that Deposit will be unceasingly exposed to ravening wolves, adding error to it or subtracting truth from it. So how will God still protect it? By guaranteeing that whenever a Pope engages all four conditions of his full teaching authority to define what does and does not belong to it, he will be divinely protected from error – what we call today the “Extraordinary Magisterium.” (Note how this Extraordinary Magisterium presupposes the infallible Ordinary Magisterium, and can add to it no truth or infallibility, but only a greater certainty for us human beings.) But if the Pope engages any less than all four conditions, then his teaching will be infallible if it corresponds to the Deposit handed down from Our Lord – today called the “Universal Ordinary Magisterium,” but fallible if it is not within that Deposit handed down, or Tradition. Outside of Tradition, his teaching may be true or false.

Thus there is no vicious circle (see EC 357 of last week) because Our Lord authorised Tradition and Tradition authorises the Magisterium. Indeed it is the function of the Pope to declare with authority what belongs to Tradition, and he will be divinely protected from error if he engages his full authority to do so, but he can make declarations outside of Tradition, in which case he will have no such protection. Now the novelties of Vatican II such as religious liberty and ecumenism are way outside of Church Tradition. So they come under neither the Pope’s Ordinary nor his Extraordinary Magisterium, and all the nonsense of all the Conciliar Popes does not oblige any Catholic to become either a liberal or a sedevacantist.

Kyrie eleison.

Church’s Infallibility – III

Church’s Infallibility – III posted in Eleison Comments on May 17, 2014

The crazy words and deeds of Pope Francis are presently driving many believing Catholics towards sedevacantism, which is dangerous. The belief that the Conciliar Popes have not been and are not Popes may begin as an opinion, but all too often one observes that the opinion turns into a dogma and then into a mental steel trap. I think the minds of many sedevacantists shut down because the unprecedented crisis of Vatican II has caused their Catholic minds and hearts an agony which found in sedevacantism a simple solution, and they have no wish to re-open the agony by re-opening the question. So they positively crusade for others to share their simple solution, and in so doing many of them – not all – end up displaying an arrogance and a bitterness which are no signs or fruits of a true Catholic.

Now these “Comments” have abstained from proclaiming with certainty that the Conciliar Popes have been true Popes, but at the same time they have argued that the usual sedevacantist arguments are neither conclusive nor binding upon Catholics, as some sedevacantists would have us believe. Let us return to one of their most important arguments, which is from Papal infallibility: Popes are infallible. But liberals are fallible, and Conciliar Popes are liberal. Therefore they are not Popes.

To this one may object that a Pope is certainly infallible only when he engages the four conditions of the Church’s Extraordinary Magisterium by teaching 1 as Pope, 2 on Faith or morals, 3 definitively, 4 so as to bind all Catholics. Whereupon sedevacantists and liberals alike reply that it is Church teaching that the Ordinary Universal Magisterium is also infallible, so – and here is the weak point in their argument – whenever the Pope teaches solemnly even outside of his Extraordinary Magisterium, he must also be infallible. Now their liberal Conciliar teaching is solemn. Therefore we must become either liberals or sedevacantists, depending of course on who is wielding the same argument.

But the hallmark of teaching which belongs to the Church’s Ordinary Universal Magisterium is not the solemnity with which the Pope teaches outside of the Extraordinary Magisterium, but whether what he is teaching corresponds, or not, to what Our Lord, his Apostles and virtually all their successors, the bishops of the Universal Church, have taught in all times and in all places, in other words whether it corresponds to Tradition. Now Conciliar teaching (e.g. religious liberty and ecumenism) is in rupture with Tradition. Therefore Catholics today are not in fact bound to become liberals or sedevacantists.

However, both liberals and sedevacantists cling to their misunderstanding of Papal infallibility for reasons that are not without interest, but that is another story. In any case they do not give up easily, so they come back with another objection which deserves to be answered. Both of them will say that to argue that Tradition is the hallmark of the Ordinary Magisterium is to set up a vicious circle. For if the Church’s teaching authority, or Magisterium, exists to tell what is Church doctrine, as it does, then how can the Traditional doctrine at the same time tell what is the Magisterium? Either the teacher authorises what is taught, or what is taught authorises the teacher, but they cannot both at the same time authorise each other. So to argue that Tradition which is taught authorises the Ordinary Magisterium which is teaching, is wrong, and so the Pope is infallible not only in his Extraordinary teaching, and so we must become either liberals or sedevacantists, they conclude.

Why there is no vicious circle must wait until next week. It is as interesting as why both sedevacantists and liberals fall into the same error on infallibility.

Kyrie eleison.

Fatal Humanising

Fatal Humanising posted in Eleison Comments on February 22, 2014

Some Catholics who hold that the Apostolic See is vacant protest strongly against recent issues of these “Comments” which seem to put the universal heresy of liberalism on an equal footing with the particular opinion of sedevacantism. But whereas these “Comments” constantly excoriate the plague of liberalism, surely they have recently done no more than argue that nobody is obliged to be a sedevacantist, which, considering what a sterilising trap sedevacantism proves in some cases to be, is surely a very moderate position to take.

However, the “Comments” do hold that sedevacantism, while admirable as an effort to combat liberalism, is at best an inadequate means of doing so, because it shares with liberals one of their basic errors, namely the exaggeration of papal infallibility. In its full depth this error takes us to the heart of today’s unprecedented crisis of the Church, which is why the “Comments” will insist on the question, while begging pardon of any readers unduly bored or offended. The whole Church is at stake, and not just the sensibilities of these or those of its members.

That full depth is mankind’s slow but steady turning away over the last 700 years from God, from his Son and from his Church. At the height of the Middle Ages Catholics had a clear and strong faith, grasping the oneness and exclusivity of the objective God and his non-contradictory Truth. Dante had no problem putting Popes in his Inferno. But as down the centuries man put himself more and more at the centre of things, so God lost his absolute transcendence above all creatures, and truth became more and more relative, no longer to God’s authority but instead to man’s.

Within the Church, take for example the 13th of the 17 “Rules for thinking with the Church” from St Ignatius of Loyola’s famous book of the Spiritual Exercises, praised by countless Popes ever since, and no doubt responsible for helping to save millions of souls. Ignatius writes: “To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it.”Such a position might support the churchmen’s authority in the short run, but did it not run a serious risk of detaching it from truth in the long run?

Indeed by the late 19th century liberalism had become so strong that the Church had to support its own authority by the Definition in 1870 of its Magisterium when operating at full power, namely whenever 1) a Pope 2) defines 3) a point of Faith or morals 4) so as to bind the whole Church. But thinking too humanly since then, too many Catholics, instead of relating this Extraordinary Magisterium to God and to the unchanging truth of the Church’s Ordinary Magisterium, have tended to lend to the human person of the Pope an infallibility coming from, and belonging to, God alone. This humanising process generated a creeping infallibility which almost inevitably resulted in the preposterous claim of Paul VI to be able to remould the Church’s Tradition in the name of a “Solemn Ordinary Magisterium.” The great majority of Catholics allowed him to get away with it, and to this day a mass of them are becoming day by day liberals as they follow the Conciliar Popes, while a small minority of Catholics are driven to denying that those responsible for the Conciliar nonsense can be Popes at all.

In brief, I personally have respect for many sedevacantists, insofar as they believe in the Church and are desperate for a solution to an infinitely serious problem of the Church., but in my opinion they need to look higher and deeper – the infinite height and depth of God himself.

Kyrie eleison.