The Ecumenical Council Failure Heresy

An article at New Liturgical Movement, titled: Lessons from a Failed Council and a Failed Reform essentially asks, as Fr. Z. phrases the question: “Can Ecumenical Councils ever be failures?”

Certain types of articles are cropping up on conservative and traditionalist blogs around the world. They do not discuss open question, but instead attack the authority of the Roman Pontiff and the Ecumenical Councils per se. This differs from discussing what a magisterial teaching means, or whether that teaching is infallible or non-infallible. The basic premise, presented in a myriad of different ways, is that any Catholic can stand in judgment over Popes and Councils, to reject anything at all, on any stated basis. The premise is that any lay person or cleric can judge the decisions of the highest authorities in the Church (Popes and Councils) and nullify whatever they wish. The basis for this nullification varies wildly, so much so that it is clear that no real basis is being proposed, other than the judgment of the individual (or of a certain subculture). This article from NLM on Conciliar Failure is one such article.

The idea proposed by the article author, Gregory Dipippo, is that Councils can attempt to solve a problem and fail, and on that basis, we can declare the Council to be a failure and therefore ignore it. The idea is schismatic and heretical, for several reasons.

It is a severe distortion to claim that an Ecumenical Council is merely an exercise in problem solving that can succeed for fail. Ecumenical Councils are mainly used by the Church to teach doctrine, to issue dogmatic definitions, and to condemn heresy. This role of Councils is ignored by the article. So when the article claims that Lateran V tried to solve the problem of benefices and failed, the implication is that Lateran V should be ignored as a failure. But Lateran V taught the dogma of subjection to the Roman Pontiff.

Lateran V: “It arises from the necessity of salvation that all the faithful of Christ are to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”

Lateran V: “the person who abandons the teaching of the Roman pontiff cannot be within the Church….”

Another article, this one at OnePeterFive by Peter Kwasniewski, also suggests ignoring the Fifth Lateran Council. And I doubt that the choice of this Council is coincidence. Like Vatican I, another Council attacked by the accusers of Pope Francis, Lateran V taught on the authority of the Roman Pontiff.

So the argument is that Lateran V tried and failed to solve the problem of the abuse of benefices, and therefore the Council can be deemed a failure as a whole and entirely ignored. This has the direct effect of nullifying dogma on subjection to the Roman Pontiff; said nullification is heresy. So Greggory Dipippo and Peter Kwasniewski are heretics for rejecting Lateran V, and also schismatics for rejecting the authority per se of multiple Councils.

A rejection of an Ecumenical Council on the basis of the claim that, in the judgment of a layperson or priest, the Council failed to solve a problem is also per se schismatic, even if the Council did not issue any dogmatic definitions. Kwasniewski has proposed rejecting Vatican II, and so does Dipippo. And that is the point of the argument in Dipippo’s article, rejecting Vatican II. First he claims that Lateran V failed to solve the problem that it tried to solve, and therefore became, what the article title calls “a Failed Council”. This argument utterly ignores the teachings of Lateran V, its condemnation of the schismatic quasi-Council of Pisa, and other teachings and decisions. So the whole Council is narrowed to one topic, the decision on that topic is declared to be a failure 500 years later by a lay person writing a blog article, and the Council is then deemed, in its entirety, a “failure” to be ignored by the whole Church. The arrogance and stupidity of that argument by Dipippo is stunning.

And then he tries the same trick with Vatican II:

Dipippo: “Likewise, it is perfectly possible that Vatican II correctly identified a problem within the Church, the then-current state of its liturgical life, without correctly identifying the solution to that problem. Indeed, it is perfectly possible for said council to have correctly identified the problem, and offered as a solution the exact opposite of what was needed to solve it…. And it is perfectly possible to say this without denying the legitimacy of Vatican II as an ecumenical council.”

The problem here is the form of the Mass, since Vatican II initiated the changes that led to the Novus Ordo Mass and the reduction of the use of the TLM. What about the very many teachings of Vatican II? These are ignored in the article, just as the teachings of Lateran V are ignored. Vatican II is narrowed to just its decisions on liturgy — actually most of which were made subsequent to the Council — and the Council is then implied to be a failure to be ignored.

This has the effect of nullifying all the teachings of Vatican II, as well as its authority per se. And the basis for this wholesale rejection of Lateran V and Vatican II is the judgment of a lay person. Councils are treated by this article as if they were merely exercising in problem solving, to be judged and condemned by anyone who so chooses. There is no trace of authority in Ecumenical Councils as presented by Dipippo.

Dipippo: “Trent was a success because it did correctly what Lateran V had done incorrectly. We may well hope that the firestorm of problems which have emerged in the Church in the wake of Vatican II will likewise be remedied by a future Council, and we may hope for this without “rejecting” Vatican II any more than we “reject” Lateran V.”

Calling an Ecumenical Council “legitimate” while utterly ignoring its teachings and telling others to do the same is heretical and schismatic. It is not subjection to the Roman Pontiff and the Councils approved by him to merely label the Council “legitimate”. We are required to accept the decisions of Popes and Councils on doctrine and discipline. And while discipline can change from time to time, so that a decision of a Council on discipline might have changed before our own time, the teachings of Ecumenical Councils have never been known to fail, to err, or to be reformed or corrected by any subsequent Pope or Council.

Furthermore, one cannot reject an Ecumenical Council in its entirely on the basis of a claim that one attempted solution to a problem by the Council failed. Such a judgment of a Council is not given to any member of the faithful. Just as the First See is judged by no one, so also the Ecumenical Councils approved by the First See can be judged by no one.

Moreover, the teachings of Popes and of Councils approved by the Pope are of the highest authority, and so they fall under the charism of truth and of never-failing faith and the charism of the unblemished Apostolic See. Grave errors are not possible in the decisions of Ecumenical Councils on both doctrine and discipline. While a Council might try to address a problem, and later the Pope or another Council might offer a different solution, this is not a grave error and does not justify a nullification of the Council in its entirety.

Those who say “Recognize and Resist” the Pope are schismatics. Their minimal recognition that Francis is Pope does not include subjection, as required by the dogma of Lateran V and Vatican I. Similarly, the minimal recognition that an Ecumenical Council is “legitimate” while proclaiming the Council to be a failure to be ignored entirely is also schismatic.

Subjection to the Roman Pontiff:

Unam Sanctam: “Moreover, that every human creature is to be subject to the Roman pontiff, we declare, we state, we define, and we pronounce to be entirely from the necessity of salvation.”

Saint Thomas Aquinas, Contra Errores Graecorum, pars 2, cap. 38: “For it is revealed that to be subject to the Roman Pontiff is from the necessity of salvation…. And [Saint] Maximus [the Confessor] in the epistle to those of the East directly says: ‘We state that the universal Church has been united and founded upon the rock of the confession of Peter, [and] according to the definition of salvation, in Her, by the necessity of salvation, our souls are to remain, and to her [our souls] are to be obedient, keeping her faith and confession.’ ”

Lateran V: “And since it arises from the necessity of salvation that all the faithful of Christ are to be subject to the Roman Pontiff, just as we are taught by the testimony of the divine Scriptures and of the holy Fathers, and as is declared by the Constitution of Pope Boniface VIII of happy memory, which begins ‘Unam Sanctam,’ for the salvation of the souls of the same faithful, and by the supreme authority of the Roman pontiff and of this holy See, and by the unity and power of the Church, his spouse, the same Constitution, being approved by the sacred Council, we renew and approve.” (Pope Leo X, Fifth Lateran Council, Session 11, 19 December 1516)

Vatican I: “Since the Roman Pontiff, by the divine right of the apostolic primacy, governs the whole Church, we likewise teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all cases which fall under ecclesiastical jurisdiction recourse may be had to his judgment. The sentence of the Apostolic See (than which there is no higher authority) is not subject to revision by anyone, nor may anyone lawfully pass judgment thereupon.”

No, you cannot “resist” the Roman Pontiff, not without committing the sin of formal schism. No, you may not judge an Ecumenical Council to be a “Failed Council” and thereby reject or ignore its teachings and decisions. For this, too, is the sin of formal schism. Then the rejection of the teachings of Lateran V, Vatican I, and/or Vatican II is heresy: first, because the rejection of any Council is contrary to dogma on the authority of Ecumenical Councils, and second because these Ecumenical Councils taught dogma, and rejection of dogma is heresy.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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