Tradition

Sermon – Ash Wednesday 2013

Sermon - Ash Wednesday 2013 posted in on October 3, 2014

Sermon for Ash Wednesday at St. Athanasius chapel in Vienna, VA. Given on February 13, 2013.

Tradition

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.

Truth First

Truth First posted in Eleison Comments on March 1, 2014

There must be many objections to the argument of recent issues of these “Comments” that, divine truth being prior to human teachers, then the fallibility of Popes need not concern us all that much because the true Faith is behind, beyond and above them. But here is a classic objection: the Truth in itself may be above them, but to us human beings it only comes through them – “faith is by hearing” (Rom.X, 17). Thus Our Lord entrusted to Peter (i.e. the Popes) the task of confirming his brethren in the faith (Lk.XXII, 31–32). So to us Catholics the teachers are prior to the Truth which we cannot receive without them. Moreover the Holy Ghost guides them (Jn.XVI, 13), so how can I possibly tell if or when he is not doing so?

Also in Scripture lies the answer. St. Paul writes to a flock which he has instructed in the Faith: “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema.” And the point is so important that St Paul immediately repeats it: “As we said before, so now I say again: If anyone preach to you a gospel, besides that which you have received, let him be anathema” (Gal.I, 8–9)

But, a Galatian might have objected, why should we believe your gospel on your first visit to Galatia and not an eventually different one on your second? St. Paul immediately gives a first reason: “ The gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For neither did I receive it of man, nor did I learn it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal.I, 11–12). And St Paul confirms this by narrating how little contact he had with those who might have taught him, the other Apostles, before he began preaching (I, 15–19), a fact obviously verifiable by them, and he swears to the Galatians that he is not lying (I, 20). A second reason he gives a little later, which is the miracles and experience of the Holy Spirit (III, 2–5) that the Galatians themselves had witnessed as the direct result of the preaching of Paul’s first visit.

Thus Paul proves that God both taught him, and confirmed for the Galatians, the gospel of that first visit, and the contradiction between it and any different gospel the Galatians would be not only able but also obliged to discern for themselves, if they wished to save their souls. And no matter if (I,8) the preacher of the different gospel were an angel or Paul himself – or a Pope! – the Galatians would still have the absolute duty to stay with Paul’s first gospel. The truth that had been set before them (III,1) the Galatians had recognized and accepted it (III, 3), just as one recognizes that 2 and 2 are 4, so it would have priority over any teacher eventually contradicting it, whatever authority to teach he might appear to have (I,9).

Thus Archbishop Lefebvre used to say that for the 19 centuries between St Paul and Vatican II the Church had preached exactly the same gospel, coming from God and ever and again confirmed by him. That gospel is, as revealed by God, Revelation; as handed down by churchmen, Tradition; as taught with authority by the Church, its Ordinary and Extraordinary Magisterium. Between that gospel and Vatican II the contradiction is obvious, so we must accept and believe Tradition, if we wish to save our souls, whatever the apparent authorities of the Church may say to the contrary. So help us God. How then can the Archbishop’s own Society of St Pius X be officially seeking reconciliation with the authorities of Vatican II?

Kyrie eleison.