The Search for Loopholes in the Magisterium

The Vatican II loophole: the claim that since Vatican II, everything has changed, and therefore the older Councils and teachings can be ignored or revised. This is a common liberal claim, and it is contrary to faith. Whether you consider yourself to be liberal or conservative or something else, the teaching authority of the Church requires faith.

The non-infallible loophole: this is proposed by Fr. Chad Ripperger in his book Magisterial Authority. He claims first of all that teachings of Ecumenical Councils are only infallible if there is the intention to define a dogma. This allows a loophole where someone who disagrees with a conciliar teaching, classifies it as non-infallible (due to a perceived lack of intent), and therefore they exempt themselves from the requirement to believe.

The heretical Pope loophole: first, several Popes are accused of teaching heresy and other grave errors; then the conclusion is drawn that Popes can err gravely, and this allows the individual to claim that any teaching of a Pope could also be a grave error, again exempting the faithful from the requirement to have faith in papal teachings.

The tradition above the Magisterium loophole: in this claim, the members of the Magisterium can err, whether a Pope, a Synod, a Bishop or group of Bishops, and the individual then looks to the tradition to decide what to believe. Is the person putting his faith in tradition? No, because tradition, without the Magisterium is merely one’s own opinion attributed to the tradition. This is not faith.

The infallibility of the Sensus Fidei loophole: in his claim, the faithful are infallible and can therefore contradiction the Magisterium, which can err. There is a type of infallibility where all the faithful are in agreement, but it is not the sensus fidei, which is merely the general sense or opinion of the faithful. Instead, the true infallibility of the faithful is when all the faithful are in agreement, including successive Popes, the body of Bishops and the rest of the Church — which is simply an example of the Living Tradition. It is not a fourth type of infallibility in addition to Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium.

The infallibility of theologians from 1100 to 1750: The claim is that when these theologians were in agreement, they could not err. This absurd claim has never been taught by Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium. It is a traditionalist claim used to exalt their favorite theologians’ opinions above the Magisterium. The infallibility gifted to the Church is exercised only by the Pope and the body of Bishops. No matter how many theologians agree, that is not an exercise of infallibility.

The infallibility of the Fathers and Doctors: when in agreement, they are said to be infallible. Again, this is an example of the Living Tradition. The fathers and doctors merely witness to the living Tradition. They do not exercise infallibility the way that the body of Bishops gathered with the Pope would. And how do we know when they are in agreement? It is for the Magisterium alone to judge what is the correct interpretation of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, so we cannot assert a teaching as infallible on this basis, except as a theological opinion. We should not contradict the agreement of the fathers and doctors, but that is not the same as a definition issued by the Magisterium.

The angry-at-the-Church loophole: This is fairly common. Someone utters a long list of complaints about the Church, expresses anger, and then asserts that they will certainly not believe or obey a Church that behaves that way. This is unjust anger, or it is just anger unjustly directed at the Church. Every organization of fallen sinners has serious problems. This does not exempt us from the requirement to believe what the Church teaches.

The Bible makes mistakes loophole: in this claim a series of alleged biblical errors are used to assert that not only the Bible, but the Church teaching from the Bible can err gravely and therefore cannot require our faith in Church teaching. But Sacred Scripture is truly infallible, and all these accusations are false.

The Pope Francis loophole: in this recently devised loophole, the general dislike for Francis and the general acceptance of claims that he has taught grave error are used to exempt the faithful from obeying him and from accepting his teachings. This contradicts the teaching of Jesus Christ, who said that the faith of Peter and his successors will never fail, and who gave Peter both keys and both swords, so that he would have the ability and authority to teach and to lead.

Pope Francis is accepted by the body of Bishops as Roman Pontiff; therefore, it is a dogmatic fact that he is a valid Pope. Every valid Pope has the charism of truth and a never failing faith, so that he can never teach heresy (contrary to truth) or commit apostasy, heresy, or schism (contrary to faith). And therefore even his non-infallible teaching require submission.

The Ipse Dixit (because I said so) loophole: this occurs with popular teachers who have a hardcore following; they believe whatever he or she teaches, so this type of teacher gives no explanation or theological argument. He just states what is supposedly truth. If you disagree, he will oppose any argument, however well founded, with more bold but baseless assertions. And his followers will support him without asking for a theological basis to his teachings. This occurs on both the left and the right in the Church, mainly because they are teaching what their listeners wish to hear. No one wants to ask if it is really true.

Listen. If you want to follow Jesus Christ, you have to accept His Plan — which includes putting your faith, even when contrary to your own understanding, in the teachings of the Magisterium. If you instead put your faith in the teachings of a subculture, or some particular theologians or priest or bishop, then you are not following Jesus. The teachers chosen by Jesus are the successive Popes and the body of Bishops. If you cannot put their teachings above your own understanding of what is true, above the teachings of your favorite teachers teaching from Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, above reason and emotion, then you are not worthy of Him.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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2 Responses to The Search for Loopholes in the Magisterium

  1. Robert Fastiggi says:

    Thank you for another perceptive and illuminating article. As I recall, Fr. Chad Ripperger claims that the infaffilibility of theologians from 1100 to 1750 was allegedly supported by Pius IX’s letter, Tuas libenter, of December 21, 1863. This letter, though, has been misused by both progressive and traditionalist Catholic writers.. One progessive theologian, Dr. Richard Gaillardetz, cites Tuas libenter (Denz.-H, 2879) to claim that the consensus of theologians serves as the determining factor for the discernment of the infallibility of the universal ordinary Magisterium. In the actual text, however, Pius IX is affirming the OBLIGATION of theologians to submit with divine faith not only to what is defined by express decrees of ecumenical councils or Popes but also “to those matters which are handed on as divinely revealed by the ordinary Magisterium of the Church dispersed throughout the whole world and, for that reason, are held, by the universal and constant consensus of Catholic theologians, as belonging to the faith” (ideoque universali et constanti consensu a catholicis theologis ad fidem pertinire retinentur). The Latin, ideoque, in this context means “and therefore” or “and for that reason” or “and on that account.” Joseph Hoffmann’s French translation of Denz.-Hün., 2879 has “et, par conséquent.” The ideoque indicates that the universal and constant consensus of Catholic theologians follows AS A RESULT of the universal and ordinary teaching of the Magisterium. It’s a complete misreading of the text to say that Pius IX is establishing the universal and constant consensus of Catholic theologians as a condition for the infallibility of the universal ordinary Magisterium. The entire context of Tuas libenter is a response to German theologians like Döllinger who wanted to downplay the need for theologians to submit to magisterial teachings. It is inconceivable that Pius IX, in this context, wanted to make the universal consensus of theologians the condition for determining what is taught by the universal ordinary Magisterium. It’s also false to claim that Pius IX was somehow affirming the infallibility of the common agreement of Catholic theologians from 1100 to 1750.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Thanks, Robert. That helps a lot. So the theologians are adhering to what is infallible; it is not infallible because they adhere to it. Reversing that results in theologians being above the Magisterium.

      Today, so many leaders wish to be leaders only; they don’t want to be followers of Jesus Christ. This was the mistake of the Pharisees. They didn’t want to humble themselves to merely believe what Jesus taught. And today, people don’t want to humble themselves to learn from the Pope or the Bishops. They would rather rise up and oppose any ideas contrary to their own. Pride goeth before a fall.

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