No, You Can’t Make Up Your Own Doctrines

A blog post on Pope Vigilius by Mark Hausam caught my attention. It is also found at the blog Where Peter Is. It’s a good example of theology so poor it borders not so much on heresy as on making up your own religion.

Hausam: “God has given what I’ll call the “gift of reliability” to the teachers of the Church, so that what they teach in terms of the doctrine of the church (whether of “faith” or “morals”) is accurate and does not lead into error.”

The Church does not teach a gift of reliability. Hausam invented that. It’s one thing to invent a terminology to explain a teaching, but he is inventing the teaching itself. Also, error is possible in the teachings of Popes. The non-infallible teachings of the Pope are non-irreformable, and subject to error and correction. If every teaching were accurate and error-free, then every teaching would be infallible. Not so. The dogma of Vatican I states that papal teaching is only infallible when certain conditions are met. Claiming that all papal teachings are infallible, or using a different terminology to claim the same erroneous idea, is heresy.

Hausam: “The teaching authority of the Catholic Church resides in the “Magisterium,” which is simply the body of bishops who govern the Church in communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.”

No, the Magisterium is another word for “teaching authority”. The Magisterium is not the body of Bishops in communion with the Pope. The Magisterium is exercised by the Bishops and the Pope.

The Church is governed by the Roman Pontiff and the body of Bishops. The Pope is the Supreme Teacher and Supreme Judge of the Church, above even all the other bishops put together.

Hausam: “the Pope, as the head of the church, has the gift of reliability given to him in his own unique office as well, so that he can never teach error when he is exercising his teaching office.”

There’s no gift of reliability. The Pope has the charism of truth and of never failing faith, as defined by Vatican I, and he has the charism of papal infallibility. These are not given merely to his office, but to his person as well. The Pope can never commit heresy, even as a private individual.

The Pope can teach error when exercising his ordinary magisterium. This assertion by Hausam is heresy: “he can never teach error when he is exercising his teaching office”.

Hausam: “Sometimes the Church teaches a doctrine definitively — that is, she teaches a doctrine as certainly and irrevocably the correct opinion.”

No. The infallible teachings of the Church, the dogmas, are truths found in Tradition and Scripture. They are not opinions, not even “correct opinion”. Calling the dogmas of the Faith on important matters of faith, morals, and salvation “certainly and irrevocably the correct opinion” is just bad theology.

Hausam continues: “This might happen when the bishops come together in an ecumenical council and make definitive decrees or statements, or it might happen as all the bishops in the ordinary exercise of their office agree in teaching a doctrine definitively throughout the world.”

No mention of the Pope in speaking of Ecumenical Councils and the ordinary and universal Magisterium is a grave error. If all the Bishops agree, but the Pope has not spoken, it is not of the OUM.

Hausam: “The Pope might teach a doctrine definitively either by formally defining a doctrine as a dogma (this is the famed ex cathedra declaration) or simply by affirming that a doctrine is the definitive teaching of the Church.”

What? Is there a fourth way to teach infallibly: Councils, OUM, Papal Infallibility, and affirming a doctrine is definitive? Either a papal teaching, by himself, meets all the conditions for Papal Infallibility, or it is non-infallible. Adding a fourth way for the Magisterium to teach infallibly is heresy.

Hausam: “When the Church teaches something definitively, since she has the gift of reliability, Catholics are obligated to receive and accept it definitively.”

There’s no gift of reliability. That is an invention of Hausam, so the faithful are not obligated to do anything in regard to that fictitious “gift of reliability”. Also, that which is reliable is not necessarily always accurate or error free. A good theology teacher (which Hausam is clearly not) should be able to teach with reliability. That’s a weak and ambiguous term for the ability of the Church to teach by the work of the Holy Spirit.

Hausam: the Church “might teach a doctrine in such a way that it is claimed to be true, or accurate, or good to believe or hold or practice, etc., but not in such a way that it is claimed that the final, unchangeable word on the subject has been given.”

What the ???? The Church does not present any doctrine as “claimed to be true” or merely “good to believe or hold”. It is also disturbing that the teachings of the Church are called opinion and claims by Hausam.

Hausam: “For example, the bishops or the Pope might say, “X is the best way to think about this right now,” or “We should think X right now,” or “So far as we can see at this point, X appears to be true,”

No Pope or Bishop presents the Gospel of Jesus Christ in that manner. Is this article by Mark Hausam a joke? Did “Where Peter Is” play an April Fool’s joke on their readers? And does this man actually teach high school students theology? I hope not.

Hausam: “If the Pope teaches us that X is the best position to hold right now and that we ought to hold position X, but that this is not necessarily the final word on the subject, if later on we find that X is false we cannot be said to have been led astray by the Pope’s teaching, for that teaching did not teach us that X would never be overturned.”

This man’s understanding of Catholic doctrine is absurd. No Pope says “this is the best position to hold right not, but if I’m wrong, you were not led astray because I did not say the teaching would never be overturned.” And what happened to the earlier claim in the article that the teaching of the Pope never errs. Is this what he means by never errs? The Pope can teach a falsehood, but if it isn’t definitive that doesn’t count?

What Hausam presents has the level of understanding of doctrine of a 12-year-old. Some of it is abject heresy, and the rest is his own invention of how he thinks the magisterium should work. But it is not Church teaching.

Then there is this remark in response to a comment on the article at Where Peter Is —

Hausam: “The Catholic position is that the Church cannot go off the rails and lead people into error. The Pope and bishops are protected from error in their teaching.”

The Church is indefectible. What constitutes going off the rails is uncertain. The Church cannot lead the faithful away from the path of salvation, however, the claim that the Pope and the Bishops are protected from error in their teaching, all error, even in non-infallible teaching, is heresy.

It’s alarming that Catholics read articles like the one by Hausam and can’t recognize it as gravely erroneous and, to use a new theological term that I learned from Hausam, off the rails.


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