An Heretical Distortion of the Indefectibility of the Church

Fr. John Zuhlsdorf (Fr. Z.) distorts the dogma of the indefectibility to the extent of heresy:

“The Lord promised that Hell would not ultimately prevail. But….

“Holy Mother Church is indefectible. The Lord promised that Hell would not ultimately prevail.

“He didn’t, however, promise that it wouldn’t prevail quite a lot.

“He made no promises about the mighty Church in N. Africa or Asia Minor… or these USA… or Rome.”

[Posted on 13 August 2021 by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf]

The addition of the term “ultimately” is heretical. The indefectibility of the Church is a continual character of the one true Church. The gates of Hell cannot prevail over the Church at any time, nor for any length of time. The gates of Hell cannot “prevail quite a lot,” only for the gates of Hell to lose in the end. This interpretation of indefectibility is heresy.

Then the claim by Fr. Z. that Jesus did not promise that the gates of Hell would not prevail over the Church of Rome is another distinct heresy. Not only is the Church indefectible, but the Church of Rome, that is, the Apostolic See, without blemish. It is also heretical and schismatic for Fr. Z. to make no distinction in the faithfulness of the Church of Rome as compared to other Churches or Sees.

Pope Leo XIII: “neither against the rock upon which Christ builds His Church nor against the Church shall the gates of Hell prevail.”
[Pope Leo XIII quoting Origen; Satis Cognitum, n. 12.]

Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“834 Particular Churches are fully catholic through their communion with one of them, the Church of Rome ‘which presides in charity.’ [St. Ignatius of Antioch] ‘For with this church, by reason of its pre-eminence, the whole Church, that is the faithful everywhere, must necessarily be in accord.’ [St. Irenaeus] Indeed, ‘from the incarnate Word’s descent to us, all Christian churches everywhere have held and hold the great Church that is here [at Rome] to be their only basis and foundation since, according to the Savior’s promise, the gates of hell have never prevailed against her.’ [St. Maximus the Confessor]”

The CCC and the Saints teach that the gates of Hell have NEVER prevailed not only over the universal Church, but never also over “the Church of Rome”, “the great Church that is here [at Rome]”.

And here are 85 teachings from Saints, Popes, and Councils on the indefectibility of the Apostolic See and the never-failing faith of the Roman Pontiff. It is contrary to all of those teachings to say what Fr. Z. claimed: that the gates of Hell can prevail over the Church for a while or to some extent, as long as the Church prevails in the end; and that the gates of Hell can prevail over the Church of Rome, just as over any other particular Church on earth. These are patently heretical claims by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf.

And I would write to his Bishop, but he is apparently a new type of iterant preacher, such as were forbidden by the Council of Trent, except that he travels about on the internet, without supervision by an order or a diocesan Bishop. He is paid by his internet supporters, in the form of monthly recurring donations, with multiple donors for each day of each month. He has in effect set up his own Church, in which he is the highest authority, and he stands in judgment over Popes, Councils, doctrines, and the Gospel itself.

False teachers like Fr. Z. hold only one thing to be indefectible, themselves. They never accept any teaching or decision of the Church that is contrary to their own minds. They are their own idols. But in reality, all idolatry is self-idolatry. The idolatry of wood and stone is simply a projection of one’s own ideas onto a non-existent god. Pride is the root of all sin, and idolizing one’s self is the root of all idolatry.

Here is the article on indefectibility in the old Catholic encyclopedia. It contains the usual teaching on this subject, which of course refutes the heresy taught by Fr. Z. above.

“Among the prerogatives conferred on His Church by Christ is the gift of indefectibility. By this term is signified, not merely that the Church will persist to the end of time, but further, that it will preserve unimpaired its essential characteristics. The Church can never undergo any constitutional change which will make it, as a social organism, something different from what it was originally. It can never become corrupt in faith or in morals; nor can it ever lose the Apostolic hierarchy, or the sacraments through which Christ communicates grace to men. The gift of indefectibility is expressly promised to the Church by Christ, in the words in which He declares that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

This indefectibility is continuous. It is contrary to indefectibility to claim that the gates of Hell can prevail for a time or that it can “prevail quite a lot”.

“The gift of indefectibility plainly does not guarantee each several part of the Church against heresy or apostasy. The promise is made to the corporate body. Individual Churches may become corrupt in morals, may fall into heresy, may even apostatize…. Only to One particular Church is indefectibility assured, viz. to the See of Rome. To Peter, and in him to all his successors in the chief pastorate, Christ committed the task of confirming his brethren in the Faith (Luke 22:32); and thus, to the Roman Church, as Cyprian says, “faithlessness cannot gain access” (Epistle 54). “

More on that latter point here, that the Roman Church, i.e. the Apostolic See and the Roman Pontiff can never fail in faith. Fr. Z. denies the indefectibility of the Roman Church, that is, of the Apostolic See. This contradicts the dogma of Vatican I on the charism of truth and of never-failing faith of the Roman Pontiff and the unblemished Apostolic See.

Vatican I: “That which our lord Jesus Christ, the prince of shepherds and great shepherd of the sheep, established in the blessed apostle Peter, for the continual salvation and permanent benefit of the Church, must of necessity remain for ever, by Christ’s authority, in the Church which, founded as it is upon a rock, will stand firm until the end of time”

The Church “will stand firm until the end of time,” and not will fail again and again, as the gates of Hell prevail over Her quite a lot. This idea that the gates of Hell can prevail for a time and to an extent over the spotless Bride of Christ is contrary to dogma.

Vatican I: “The first condition of salvation is to maintain the rule of the true faith. And since that saying of our lord Jesus Christ, You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, cannot fail of its effect, the words spoken are confirmed by their consequences. For in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been preserved unblemished, and sacred doctrine been held in honor. Since it is our earnest desire to be in no way separated from this faith and doctrine, we hope that we may deserve to remain in that one communion which the Apostolic See preaches, for in it is the whole and true strength of the Christian religion.”

In the Apostolic See, the Catholic faith has ALWAYS been preserved unblemished. This rules out the gates of Hell prevailing for a time, or quite a lot, or that the Apostolic See might fail just as any other particular Church in the world might fail. Such claims are contrary to the dogmas of Vatican I and of the ordinary universal Magisterium.

And the Church is kept indefectible by means of the indefectible of the Roman Pontiff and the Apostolic See.

Vatican I: “This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this See so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine. Thus the tendency to schism is removed and the whole Church is preserved in unity, and, resting on its foundation, can stand firm against the gates of hell.”

The gates of Hell never prevail over the Church because She is founded upon the Rock of faith that is Peter and his successors.

Fr. John Zuhlsdorf teaches blatant heresy on the indefectibility of the Church.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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2 Responses to An Heretical Distortion of the Indefectibility of the Church

  1. Unfortunately Fr. Zuhlsdorf is starting to look more like the Protestants (not all) who insert words into the Bible in order to support their interpretation. But the particular Fr. Zuhlsdorf interpretation about the Church of Christ is so bad that I haven’t seen any Protestant claim so or similarly.

    The Good News (Gospel) according to Fr. Zuhlsdorf:
    “Hell would not *ultimately* prevail”
    “He didn’t, however, promise that it wouldn’t prevail quite a lot.”

    Btw, that wouldn’t be a “Good News” if you ask me.

    But Thank God that’s NOT what He said.
    The Good News (Gospel) according to St. Matthew:
    And I say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.

    What kind of “Rock” the Pope would be if Hell would be able to prevail quite a lot?

    More from St. Matthew’s Gospel:
    “A wise man, who built his house upon the rock. And the rains descended, and the floods rose up, and the winds blew, and rushed upon that house, BUT IT DID NOT FALL, for it was founded on the rock.”

    So Fr. Zuhlsdorf is saying that Jesus is a not so wise of a man that His Church is able to fall to a great extents? Jeez.

  2. Robert L Fastiggi says:

    Thank you, Ron, for this analysis. The only way Fr. Zuhlsdorf could avoid heresy is if he intends to distinguish the Church of Rome from the See of Peter. This, though, is impossible. Even if the Roman Pontiff were to move to another City (e.g. Avignon), he still would remain the Bishop of Rome.

    There’s an interesting entry in Denz.-H, 1411-1419 concerning the condemned propositions of Peter of Osma by Sixtus IV in his Bull, Licet ea, of August 9, 1479. Denzinger-Banwart [DB], gives the Bull’s date as August 9, 1478, but Denzinger-Umberg (edition 24-24, 1948) gives the date of Licet ea as August 9, 1479. Moreover, the error of Peter de Osma stating that “the Church of the city of Rome can fall into error” (Ecclesia urbis Romanae errare potest) is put in a footnote without an explanation in Denzinger-Umberg. The 1954 30th edition of Denzinger-Rahner does the same. In the 32nd edition of Denzinger–Schönmetzer [DS] (1963) the numbering system is changed, and Licet ea is given as numbers 1411–1419 instead of 724–733. An explanation, though, is given for why the error stating “the Church of the city of Rome can fall into error” is not included. Schönmetzer says that this error was included in the list of 11 errors of Peter de Osuna which were condemned on December 15, 1476 by the capitular vicar of Saragossa and on May 24, 1479 by the theologians assembled in Alcalá de Henares under the Archbishop of Toledo, Alfonso Carillo.. According to Schönmetzer, though, Pope Sixtus IV did not include three of these 11 errors in his Bull, Licet ea of Aug. 9, 1479. Among the omitted errors was “the Church of the city of Rome can fall into error.” The 43rd edition of Denzinger–Hünermann [DH] (2010 German; 2012 English) follows Denzinger–Schönmetzer in this explanation. Exactly why Sixtus IV would chose not to include three of the errors condemned by the theologians assembled under the Archbishop of Toledo is not given in the DS and DH editions. Bellarmine, though, believed Sixtus IV did condemn the error which holds that “the city of Rome can fall into error” even though he attributed this error to “a certain Peter of Oxford” rather than Peter de Osuna (see De Summo Pontifice, Book IV, chap. IV). My own speculation is that Sixtus IV might not have included this particular error because of the possibility that the Roman Pontiff might leave the city of Rome and a schismatic Church be then set up in the city. Fr. Zuhlsdorf, however, makes no mention of the city of Rome but only of the Church of Rome, which would, by necessity, be the Apostolic See under the Roman Pontiff. At the very least, Fr. Zuhlsdorf has an obligation to clarify what he meant by his assertion, especially since his assertion seems to contradict Vatican I, which has more authority than the 1479 bull of Sixtus IV.

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