The Roman Pontiff has the authority to teach and to guide the faithful directly and immediately, not only through intermediaries. When the Pope teaches, we are absolutely required to believe what he teaches; when the Pope orders, we are absolutely required to obey what he decides. We are not able to say, in the face of a papal teaching or decision on discipline, that we will obey only our local Bishop or priest, in what he says the teaching means or the order requires. It is heresy to say that the faithful do not have an absolute obligation to accept the decisions under both keys, teachings and disciplines, from the Roman Pontiffs, the Ecumenical Councils, and the body of Bishops led by the Pope. It is heresy to propose that the faithful may, if they wished instead, simply believe and obey whatever their favorite individual Bishop, priest, theologian, or subculture interprets those decisions on doctrine and discipline to mean.
This is the heresy of “secondary sources only”. The term comes from a requirement in Wikipedia, which some interpret to mean that articles on Catholicism cannot cite the teachings of the Church directly as proof of what the Church teaches, but instead can only cite what various theologians explain those teachings as meaning. Whether or not this is a good idea for an online encyclopedia is not at issue. The problem occurs when the faithful adopt a similar point of view, and refuse to accept what the Church directly teaches and orders, preferring instead to accept only what a subculture, such as traditionalism, tells them are the teachings and disciplines of the Church. This allows persons, who lack the charisms given only to the Roman Pontiffs as individuals and to the Bishops as a body, to usurp the Keys of Peter. This allows heretical groups to rise up within the Church, built around sets of theologians, priests, and speakers/authors, each claiming to be orthodox based on those intermediaries between them and the true Shepherds of the Church.
The faithful are required to learn the faith not only through clergy and theologians and other teachers, but always first and foremost from the Magisterium directly, and from Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture both directly and through the Magisterium. It is a grave heresy to substitute whatever the majority opinion of theologians may be for what Tradition, Scripture, and the living Magisterium actually decide.
For example, the First Vatican Council teaches that the Apostolic See is without blemish, and that each Roman Pontiff has the charism of truth and of never-failing faith. This teaching must be accepted by the faithful just as the Council presents the teaching. We are not permitted, under pain of heresy, to look instead to a subset of theologians (whose opinions we prefer) so as to fend off or explain away this teaching.
Those who wish to accuse Pope Francis of failing in faith or of sullying the See of Peter sometimes reference various theologians who, subsequent to Vatican I, rejected the above teaching. That is unfaithfulness to Christ. When did Jesus say that the Church was founded on theologians or the majority opinion of some subculture (liberal, conservative, or other) as upon a Rock? He did not. We are not to substitute the opinions of anyone for the direct teachings and decisions of the Pope alone or the Holy See or the body of Bishops led by the Pope. A theologian or priest might help you to understand what the Magisterium is teaching. But be careful not to fall into the error of believing what they say in direct contradiction to the Popes, Councils, or body of Bishops led by the Pope. You have an obligation to try to understand what the Magisterium is teaching directly from the Magisterium, not only through intermediaries.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
“Love the Pope!” – no ifs, and no buts:
For Bishops, priests, and faithful, Saint Pius X explains what loving the Pope really entails
So true, however might cite the truth as it is… and love is the proof that one remains in the truth!
/ Fr. Clemens Karlsson of Saint Gabriel OCD
Thank you for this important article, Ron. Many people can fall into this heresy of Secondary Sources Only without realizing it (many perhaps without ill intent). With today’s internet technology, there are many media sources. Many go to Catholic websites, youtube channels, individual Bishops, priests, theologians, speakers, and the like, and some of then can be faithful, which is fine. But our primary source of Catholic teaching and discipline must be living teaching office of the Church because, as the Catechism explains: “The task of giving an *authentic* interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church *alone*” (# 85). That is the Pope and the Body of Bishops in communion with the Pope. But it’s even worst when people go to those so called “Catholic” channels, or sources, that keep spreading false news, error, heresies, malice, hatred, denigration towards our Popes or Councils, and treat them as their “only source” or “primary source” of Catholic teaching. They get convinced that the Catholic Church teaches “this” when in fact that cannot be true. If we ask such persons how do they know? they reply “because such and such individual Bishop, such priest, such channel, with many followers teaches so”. When that is in fact not true Catholic teaching. We need to verify with our primary source, our main shepherd the Vicar of Christ, our Visible Head, the Pope and the body of Bishops in communion with him. IF the Church has not taught something, then we should not treat secondary sources as our heads because they are not the Rock, but sand. Again, many supposed “faithful Catholic” media are spreading false news out there as we speak.
One of the main arguments against the teaching of Vatican I and II comes from relying on various priests and theologians as sources which are placed above the Magisterium. Another issue is relying on a subculture in the Church, conservative or traditionalist or liberal, etc., instead of the Magisterium. It is not so difficult to learn from the Magisterium directly. And it is certainly faithful to rely on priests and theologians to help understand what the Church is saying. But it becomes a problem when these secondary sources are put above the Church.
The same type of problem is seen in theologians (primarily on the left) who want everything to be an open question, subject to their assessment and judgment. This diminishes the authority of the Magisterium, or even negates it.