It is bizarre to live during the time of one of the major heresies and schisms of the Catholic Faith. Living today is like living during the time of the Arians, or Nestorians, or Jansenism, or the like. In this regard, a certain article at Rorate Caeli is particularly interesting. The article devises a new heresy (I think it is new), in reaction to Traditionis Custodes and, more generally, Pope Francis. What seems to be happening is that those who are weak in faith, who are taught or corrected by the Pope, react by creating heresies, rather than humbling themselves to believe what the Church teaches.
Here’s the article: Tradition devoured by Magisterium. The end of the article seems to reveal its motivation:
“it is worth asking, once again, to what extent the despotic act with which Francis has suffocated the traditional liturgy through Traditiones Custodes should be obeyed — thus ceasing to be the ‘guardian of authentic tradition’ and becoming its executioner.”
Fundamentally, the article argues that Catholics do not have to believe or obey the Roman Pontiff, if they can think up a good reason to disagree with the Pope. It is a faithless view of the Pope and the Magisterium.
The argument begins with a story. A false story. The claim is made that for most of the Church’s history, the Magisterium was very different. People lived by Tradition and Scripture, and the Magisterium only intervened when “the situation was truly critical”. Doctrine was supposedly received from the original Apostles, throughout the first and most of the second millennium. The Bishops only served to testify that a doctrine when back to the Apostles. LOL. What a crock.
How did people after hundreds of years know what the Apostles taught? Did they not receive their teachings from their priests, who were taught and guided by the Bishops, who were united by the Roman Pontiff in his Apostolic See? How would this hypothetical Church function with the Pope and Bishops relegated, supposedly, to a role of merely rubber stamping what the faithful supposedly already know from the Apostles? Who handed down these teachings from the Apostles, if not the successors of the Apostles?
In truth, there are clear magisterial teaching from the early years of the Church here and here on the authority of the Roman Pontiff over the whole Church, on his never-failing faith, on his freedom from heresy, and on the Apostolic See as the unblemished teacher of the whole Church.
This idea that the Magisterium changed in the last few centuries into something other than what is should be, is an argument that the Magisterial has been corrupted. And that is contrary to the dogma of the indefectibility of the Church. It is heresy. The whole article is an open attack on the authority of the Roman Pontiff and the body of Bishops over the Faith itself.
The article says: “The most ultramontane positions could argue that the First Vatican Council defined, as a matter de fide, that the Roman Pontiff possesses universal, supreme, and immediate power even in jurisdictional and disciplinary matters, and whoever does not wish to accept it, anathema sit (Denzinger 1821–1831); therefore, the foregoing thesis could be seen as an attack against this dogma of faith.”
Adding the label “ultramontane” does not change the true of what follows. The dogma of the Pope’s supreme authority was defined at Vatican I and has also been taught many times in the history of the Church. It is the perennial teaching of the Magisterium, and not a recent invention, and therefore it is also infallible under the ordinary universal Magisterium. So, Yes, “the foregoing thesis” is an attack on this dogma of faith, which is essentially the definition of material heresy. The article is heretical and also laughably contrary to Church history.
The article says: “what is questioned is not the pope’s universal power but the papal absolutism of the second millennium. Supreme power is not equivalent to absolutism, which is the same power taken to excess.”
The Pope does have universal and supreme power. This power is also ordinary, according to Vatican I and II and Canon Law. That means the Pope does not need a special or extraordinary reason to exercise his power, which is exactly the opposite of what the article claims. The article says: “When a pope (or a council with the pope) spoke, it was because the situation was truly critical….” This is contrary to dogma, which says that the Pope’s authority is ordinary. “And he is always free to exercise this power.” [LG 22]
Then the argument that the Pope’s power is supreme but not absolute is true, in a certain sense. The problem is that the article wishes the faithful to be able to arbitrarily decide when the Pope’s power applies, and when he has exceeded the limits of absolutism. And when examples of this are given, we see clearly that the supreme authority of the Pope is being absolutely denied. The article is not merely opposing absolutism, but papal authority and magisterial authority per se.
LG 24: “Bishops, as successors of the apostles, receive from the Lord, to whom was given all power in heaven and on earth, the mission to teach all nations and to preach the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain to salvation by faith, baptism and the fulfilment of the commandments. To fulfill this mission, Christ the Lord promised the Holy Spirit to the Apostles….”
The Bishops, as successors of the apostles, have always taught the Faith, under the authority of the successor of Peter. This is the Magisterium, regardless of when the word itself developed.
Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium is a reflection of the most holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So the Magisterium cannot have a much lesser role than Tradition or Scripture. The same doctrines are found in each and all of these three sources. Since these three reflect the Trinity, the three sources of truth are equal. Also, the Magisterium is the sole authoritative interpreter of Tradition and Scripture. And so the faithful cannot live the Faith without the Magisterium, or with the Magisterium in a much reduced role, as the article suggests.
The article says: “There are many things the pope cannot do. He cannot suppress institutions of divine right. He cannot suppress the episcopal order. He cannot abrogate sacraments. He cannot modify or annul the commandments. He cannot admit someone in mortal sin to sacramental communion. He cannot bless morally evil acts.”
The last two examples above are distortions. They are, in my view, false accusations against the Pope. And this shows the problem with the argument. Anyone can claim that the Pope is exceeding his authority, whether by setting arbitrary limits on him or by distorting the nature of his decisions. Amoris Laetitia does not admit persons in a state of actual mortal sin to Communion. It is, instead, a complex document dealing with the reality of sinners who might commit objectively grave sins without full culpability, and how the Church should deal with those situations.
The suggestion that the Pope is blessing morally evil acts seems to be a reference to the blessings of same sex unions in Germany, which the Pope opposed. And even though I agree with the Apostolic See on that point, the blessings were not specifically of morally evil acts, but of persons (who seemed to be unrepentant).
I remember a conversation with a Protestant fellow student at University. He said, “if the Pope says we all have to eat popsicles on Tuesdays, I’m not going to do it!” Okay, so that is not a realistic scenario for a papal order. The Pope’s authority is over doctrine and discipline, not popsicles. There are many things the Pope cannot do. But, on the other hand, there are many things the faithful cannot do. One cannot simply write an article and thereby nullify papal authority.
The article continues: “And above all, there is a general principle of natural law that applies to any authority: commands must be rational. If a command is not ordered by reason, it is not law but force and violence. And while the pope cannot be judged by anyone on earth, his manifestly irrational laws or commands can be resisted.”
I’m sorry, but you can’t resist the Roman Pontiff’s decisions simply because you have judged his laws or commands to be “manifestly irrational”. And many reasonable persons agree with the Pope’s decisions in Traditionis Custodes (which is what is alluded to here). The other and more serious problem with the claim above is the perennial teaching of the Church that the Pope has the charism of truth and of never-failing faith; freedom from all heresy; and his Apostolic See is unblemished by any grave error. These teachings guarantee that no Pope will issue a decision on doctrine or discipline that is irrational, or contrary to faith (which is above reason). And therefore, since the non-infallible decisions of the Pope can only err to a less than grave extent, his authority cannot be resisted, as there is not sufficient reason to do so.
There is some room for licit theological dissent from a non-infallible teaching of the Roman Pontiff. One can mildly disagree, from time to time with a decision of the Roman Pontiff. But this does not extend to accusing the Pope of grave error or heresy. And it does not permit the type of general or extensive impetus to resist the Roman Pontiff. Recognize and Resist is heretical and schismatic.
“we could give other examples of irrationalities that a pope could not do — in regard to which, were he to do them, it would be licit, if not obligatory, to resist him.”
Wrong. These arguments fail to consider that the faithful who are resisting the Roman Pontiff can be the ones who are in error. What seems manifest to fallen sinners might not be so clear. It is neither licit nor obligatory to resist the authority of the Roman Pontiff. Inventing fictional irrational behavior for a Pope does not prove the thesis of the article, a thesis which ignores the perennial teaching of the Church on the authority of the Roman Pontiff and his freedom from grave error.
This rorate caeli article is heretical, because it rejects the dogmatic teaching of the Ecumenical Councils on the Roman Pontiff as well as the perennial teaching of the Church. And it is schismatic as the goal is to reduce the authority of the Magisterium so that any of the faithful can resist any teaching or decision, based on their own judgment.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Thank you, Ron, for another excellent and much-needed article. There seem to be too many people now claiming that universal papal authority is an invention of recent centuries (or they reduce papal authority to whatever agrees with their positions). I was shocked to read an Eastern Catholic professor claim that the post-1870 papacy is a departure from developed tradition:https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2021/07/16/opinion-a-papacy-big-enough-to-fulfill-your-wishes-can-also-destroy-them/ The resistance to Vatican I in some circles is becoming almost as prominent as resistance to Vatican II. As you have noted, if people reject one ecumenical council what’s to stop them from rejecting others.