the Pope

Church’s Infallibility

<u>Church’s</u> Infallibility posted in Eleison Comments on September 17, 2016

From earth to Heaven go up problems. From heaven to earth come down solutions. Many a Catholic problem needs only to be taken on high to become rather less problematic. A classic example might be the problem of the Conciliar Popes, a problem with which we have been confronted since 2013 as never before, at least so brutally. There is in any case a mystery involved, but if we do not climb high enough, we fall easily prey to one of the two classic temptations: either he is the Pope so I must obey, or I cannot obey so he cannot be Pope. But if I climb above the humanity of the Pope to the divinity of the Church, then I realise that so-called Papal infallibility is actually Church infallibility, which leaves much more room for this or that Pope, or even a series of Popes, to be rather less than satisfactory. Let us go straight to the 1870 definition of infallibility, itself infallible. Here is the text, with some words highlighted, and figures inserted:—

We teach and define that it is a dogma Divinely revealed that the Roman pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra , that is when in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, 1 by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he 2 defines 3 a doctrine regarding faith or morals 4 to be held by the universal Church, by the Divine assistance promised to him in Blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed in defining doctrine regarding faith or morals, and that therefore such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves and not from the consent of the Church irreformable. —?Vatican Council, Sess. IV, Const. de Ecclesiâ Christi, Chapter iv.

In this text we see clearly the famous four conditions for the Pope to be speaking infallibly, but we see also immediately following the two words here highlighted which seem to be not often noticed, but which make very clear where the Pope’s infallibility comes from: it comes not from himself but from the Church. Let us draw a familiar comparison from modern life, from a housewife plugging her electric iron into a socket in the wall. For the iron to be heated, she must plug it into the socket, but the electricity which will then heat her iron comes obviously not from herself but from the local power station.

For a Papal definition to be infallible, the Pope must plug the four conditions into the Church, so to speak, and he is the one and only person on earth that can do that, which is why it is called “Papal infallibility,” but the infallible protection from error which he then obtains comes not from himself but from the Holy Ghost through the Church, somewhat as the electricity comes not from the housewife but from the power station through the socket. And so just as the housewife may have all kinds of personal qualities or defects, but just so long as she puts the plug into the socket, they make no difference to her iron being heated or not, similarly the Pope may be a Saint or much less than a saint, but if he is the duly appointed or elected Pope, then from the moment that he engages the four conditions, his definition will be necessarily free from error.

What this means is that whenever the Pope does not engage those four conditions, strictly speaking he can talk nonsense just like the rest of us, without the Church ceasing to be infallible. And in fact her Ordinary Infallibility is much more important than this Extraordinary Infallibility of Papal definitions, as previous issues of these “Comments” sought to illustrate with another familiar comparison, that between a mountain and its snowcap (see ECs 343 and 344, Feb 8 and 15 of 2014). The snowcap may provide greater visibility, but to be visible where it is seen it totally depends on the mountain’s bulk beneath it. So once we take the problem on high, it is not so important for the Church if the Conciliar Popes are out of their minds. We may suffer here below from fallible Popes, but Mother Church remains serenely infallible.

Kyrie eleison.

Vacancy Sense – II

Vacancy Sense – II posted in Eleison Comments on May 2, 2015

Concerning the deposition of a heretical Pope, the Traditional Dominicans of Avrillé in France have done us a great favour by publishing not only the classic considerations of John of St Thomas (cf. EC 405), but also those of other outstanding theologians. In brief, the best minds of the Church teach that a simple and popular argument today, namely that a heretical Pope cannot be a member of the Church and therefore all the less its head, is a little too simple. In brief, there is more to the Pope than just the individual Catholic who by falling into heresy loses the faith and with it his membership of the Church. For the Church, the Pope is much more than just an individual Catholic.

For clarity, let us present these theologians’ arguments in the form of question and answer:—

First of all, is it possible for a Pope to fall into heresy?

If he engages all four conditions of his Extraordinary Magisterium, he cannot teach heresy, but that he can personally fall into heresy is the more probable opinion at least of older theologians.

Then if he does fall into heresy, does that not make him cease to be a member of the Church?

As an individual Catholic person, yes, but as Pope, not necessarily, because the Pope is much more than just an individual Catholic. As Augustine said, the priest is Catholic for himself, but he is priest for others. The Pope is Pope for the entire Church.

But supposing that the great majority of Catholics can see that he is a heretic, because it is obvious. Would not his heresy in that case make it impossible for him to be Pope any longer?

No, because even if his heresy were obvious, still many Catholics might deny it, for instance out of “piety” towards the Pope, and therefore to prevent confusion from arising throughout the Church, an official declaration of the Pope’s heresy would be necessary to bind Catholics to stay united. Such a declaration would have to come from a Church Council, assembled for that purpose.

But if the heresy were public and obvious, surely that would be enough to depose him?

No, because firstly every heretic must be officially warned before being deposed, in case he would retract his heresy. And secondly, in Church or State every high official is serving the common good, and for the common good he must stay in office until he is officially deposed. So just as a bishop stays in office until he is deposed by the Pope, so the Pope stays in office until the official declaration of his heresy by a Church Council enables Christ to depose him (cf. EC 405).

But if a heretic is not a member of the Church, how can he be its head, the most important member?

Because his personal membership is a different thing from his official headship. By his personal membership he receives sanctification from the Church. By his official headship he gives official government to the Church. So by falling into heresy, he ceases to be a living member of the Church, that is true, but he does not thereby cease being able, even as a dead member, to govern the Church. His membership of the Church by faith and charity is incompatible with heresy, but his governing of the Church by his official jurisdiction, not requiring faith or charity, is compatible with heresy.

But by his heresy a former Pope has thrown away his Papacy!

Personally and in private that is true, but that is not true officially and in public until a Church Council has made not only public but also official his heresy. Until then the Pope must be treated as Pope, because for the Church’s tranquillity and common good, Christ maintains his jurisdiction.

Kyrie eleison.

Emotional Arguing

Emotional Arguing posted in Eleison Comments on March 21, 2015

An old-fashioned comparison has the advantage of being very clear: on the back of a mule a heavy pack can be difficult to balance. If it shifts to the left, one must push it to the right. If it tilts to the right, it must be pushed to the left. But such double pushing is not contrary – it has the single purpose of keeping the pack balanced. Similarly, for these “Comments” to argue repeatedly against sedevacantism is not to push towards liberalism, nor is it to suggest that sedevacantism is as bad as liberalism. It is merely to recognize that the outrageous words and deeds of the present occupant of the Holy See are tempting many good Catholics to renounce their reason and to judge of reality by their emotions. That is a common practice today, but it is not Catholic.

For instance sedevacantist arguments are, upon examination, never as strong as they can seem. Let us look at two that have crossed my desk recently, both from devout Catholics, strong in the Faith. Here is the first: Conciliar Popes, especially Francis, have not confirmed their brethren in the Faith. But it is of the essence of a Pope to do that. Therefore the Conciliar Popes are not essentially Popes. In reply one must distinguish a Pope in his being from a Pope in his action. A Pope becomes essentially Pope in his being by his valid election in a Conclave of Cardinals, or by his election, if it was invalid in itself, being convalidated by his subsequent acceptance as Pope by the Universal Church (which may have been the case for more than one Conciliar Pope, God knows). On the contrary, by confirming his brethren in the Faith a Pope is essentially Pope in his action. The two things are different and can be separated. Therefore a Pope can fail in action without necessarily ceasing to be a Pope in his being. That is surely the case of several, if not all, the Conciliar Popes.

And here is the second argument: for the individual and fallible Catholic to set himself up as judge of error by the Church’s infallible Magisterium is ridiculous. Faced then by obvious error (e.g. Conciliarism) by that Magisterium (e.g. the Conciliar Popes), he can only conclude that they have not been true Popes. But, in reply, the Pope is not necessarily the Church’s infallible Magisterium. If he neither engages all four strict conditions of the Extraordinary Magisterium, nor teaches in accordance with the Church’s Ordinary Magisterium, then he is fallible, and if he contradicts that Ordinary Magisterium then he is certainly in error, and can be judged to be such by any Catholic (or non-Catholic!) making the right use of his God-given mind. Otherwise how could Our Lord have warned us to beware of false prophets and of wolves in sheeps’ clothing (Mt. VII, 15–20)?

In fact both arguments can come from an emotional rejection of the Conciliar Popes: “They have so maltreated the Church that I simply cannot accept that they were Popes!” But what if I had been a bystander watching the original Way of the Cross? – “This is such maltreatment of Jesus that I simply cannot accept any longer that he is the Son of God!” Would not my emotional rejection of the maltreatment have been right, and yet my conclusion wrong? There is a mystery involved in the Conciliar Popes which sedevacantism passes by.

Now it may be, when the Church one day comes back to her senses, that the alone competent authority will declare that the Conciliar Popes were not Popes, but between now and then the arguments so far brought forward to prove the See of Rome to be vacant are not as conclusive as they can be made to appear.

Kyrie eleison.

Living Popes

Living Popes posted in Eleison Comments on November 29, 2014

On January 29, 1949, Pope Pius XII made the following remarks about the importance of the Pope: If ever one day – speaking purely hypothetically – material Rome were to collapse; if ever this Vatican basilica, symbol of the one and only victorious Catholic Church, were to bury beneath its ruins the historic treasures and sacred tombs which it encloses, even then the Church would be in no way demolished or split. Christ’s promise to Peter would still hold true, the Papacy would last for ever, like the Church, one and indestructible, being founded on the Pope then living .”

Since these words are classic Church doctrine (only the underlining has been added), resting as they do on Our Lord’s own words (Mt. XVI, 16–18), then it is small wonder if, ever since 1962 when the living Popes became Conciliar, millions upon millions of Catholics have been driven to becoming likewise Conciliar and liberal. The only way out of the problem that sedevacantists can see is to deny that the Conciliar Popes have been Popes at all, which can seem to be common sense, but to most Catholics it seems even more to be common sense that the Church designed by God to rest upon the living Pope cannot have existed for the last half century (1962–2014) without one.

It is easy to see how the decline of Christian civilisation since the height of the Middle Ages has led to the present corruption of the living Popes. It is easy to see how God can have permitted this appalling corruption to punish that appalling decline. What is less easy to see is how the Church can still live when the living Popes on whom it is founded are convinced that liberalism, war on God, is Catholic. In Our Lord’s own words, A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit and an evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit (Mt. VII, 18).

But a tree half good, half bad, can produce fruits half good, half bad. Now taken as a whole, a mixture of good and bad is bad, but that does not mean that taken part by part, the mixture’s good parts are as bad as its bad parts. Cancer in the liver will kill me, but that does not mean that I have cancer in the lungs. Now no living churchman, any more than any man alive, is entirely good or entirely bad. We are all a fluctuating mixture until the day we die. So can there ever have been a living Pope whose fruits were entirely evil? The answer can only be, no. In which case the Catholic Church can have half-lived for the last 50 years on the half-good fruits of the Conciliar Popes, with a half-life permitted by God to purify his Church, but which he would never permit to go so far as to kill his Church.

Thus for example Paul VI wept for the lack of vocations. Benedict XVI hankered after Tradition. Even Pope Francis surely means to bring men to God when he drags God down to men. So, Conciliar Popes are dreadfully mistaken in their ideas, fatally ambiguous in the Faith where they need to be absolutely unambiguous. The Church has been and is dying beneath them, but whatever parts in them have still been good have enabled the Church to continue, and they have been needed as living heads to continue the body of the living Church, as Pius XII said. Then let us not fear that they will be allowed to kill off the Church, but let us for our part fight their liberalism tooth and nail and pray for their return to Catholic sanity, because we do need them for the life of our Church.

Kyrie eleison.

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.

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.