Who Decides Truth?

In the Catholic Faith, there are three pillars of truth: Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium. The sacred deposit of Faith (Tradition and Scripture) are infallible because they are the Word of God. All infallibility is of God. The Magisterium is able to teach infallibly by the work of the Holy Spirit in the Roman Pontiffs and in the body of Bishops.

An infallible teaching is not merely a teaching without error. Absence of error is found on a blank page or on a page that states only a simple widely-known truth. The charism of infallibility is given by God to Peter and his successors and to the successors of the other Apostles — when their teaching meets the conditions for infallibility in either Papal Infallibility, Conciliar Infallibility, or the ordinary universal Magisterium. But this charism of truth is not merely error-free, it is guaranteed by God to be a source of important truths on faith, morals, and salvation for the people of God.

The Magisterium teaches from Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and from natural law (truths known by the light of reason). The Magisterium can only be exercised by the Pope and the Bishops. Individual Bishops can teach under the authentic non-infallible Magisterium, as can various groups of Bishops. But infallibility is only given to either the Roman Pontiff alone, or to the body of Bishops led by the Roman Pontiff. Nothing under doctrine or discipline is “of a Council” until and unless it is approved by the Roman Pontiff. And nothing is “of the ordinary universal Magisterium” until and unless the Roman Pontiff teaches the same. Thus, individual Bishops and any group of Bishops which does not sufficiently represent the body of Bishops cannot teach infallibly, and they can therefore err or even go astray from the true Faith. Individual Bishops can fall into apostasy, heresy, or schism, as can groups of Bishops.

The body of Bishops can never fall away from the true Faith because the indefectible Church is always Apostolic. The Church can never be merely the Pope and a few scattered Bishops, with the vast majority of Bishops having fallen into apostasy, heresy, or schism. Nor can the true Church ever be merely a few scattered Bishops, with some other clergy and some of the laity. The true Church is that body of the faithful, including laity, religious, and clergy, led by the successors of Peter and also led by the body of Bishops, successors of the other Apostles. Only in this way can the Church retain Her marks of being one, holy, catholic and apostolic. Then, being indefectible, the Church cannot fall away from the true faith — neither the Pope himself, nor the body of Bishops themselves, nor the body of the faithful can fall into apostasy, heresy, or schism. This charism of indefectibility is given to the Roman Pontiff as an individual, to the body of Bishops as a body, and to the body of the faithful both as a body and as followers. The body of the faithful cannot speak as equal teachers and shepherds to the Pope or the body of Bishops, but only as followers and as those who assist in teaching and leading, under the authority of the Pope and Bishops.

Schism occurs when the authority of the Roman Pontiff and/or of the body of Bishops united with and led by him is rejected, in favor of any other teacher or guide: oneself, a culture, a particular schismatic Bishop, priest, or other leader, or a set of schismatic leaders. Schism is refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff, or refusal of communion with those faithful who are submissive to the Roman Pontiff. There is no excuse for schism.

It is permitted to the faithful to disagree with the Roman Pontiff, to a limited extent, in his non-infallible decisions of doctrine or discipline. Such decisions can err to a less than grave extent, and so the possibility of disagreement exists to that same extent. But never can the member of the Church claim that the Roman Pontiff has erred gravely in doctrine or discipline, or that he has failed in faith by heresy, apostasy, or idolatry. Those who make such a claim are schismatics. For the Pope has the charism of truth and of never-failing faith, is the visible head of the Church, constitutes one head of the one Church with Christ, and is the foundational Rock of the indefectible Church. Christ gives each Pope both supreme authority and the graces needed to exercise that authority faithfully. Those who say otherwise are not Catholic in their beliefs.

In the Catholic faith, truth is decided by the Roman Pontiff, and by the body of Bishops acting with him in Ecumenical Councils or in the ordinary universal Magisterium. No individual or group has the ability or authority to oppose these decisions. When you hear talk of grave errors, supposedly committed by any Ecumenical Council, that is schismatic and heretical. It is the ancient and constant teaching of the Popes, Councils, Saints, Doctors, and Fathers of the Church that Ecumenical Councils and Roman Pontiffs cannot err gravely on doctrine or discipline. Neither can the body of Bishops, dispersed in the world, but speaking or acting in agreement with the Pope err gravely on doctrine or discipline. Then the indefectible Church is never corrupt in Her doctrine or discipline or government of the faithful.

For a Catholic Christian, true faith is to believe what the Popes, the body of Bishops with the Pope, and the Ecumenical Councils teach. Then it is a corollary of faith to accept what the same decides on matters of discipline, even when it is not a matter of dogma or doctrine.

The Current Schism

Today, we are living through a major schism in the Church. Certain conservatives and traditionalists have decided that their understanding of the Catholic Faith should prevail over whatever is taught or decided by Popes, the body of Bishops, or the Ecumenical Councils. They not only reject Vatican II but also Vatican I. They do not accept the canonizations of the recent Pope Saints. They do not accept any teaching or decision of any Pope, unless it is in accord with their own ideas. What is their source of truth? It is not Popes, or Bishops, or Ecumenical Councils. The few Bishops they follow are only those who tell them what they wish to hear. If any one of these Bishops, who are themselves schismatic, were to repent and accept the authority of the Popes and Councils, they would be abandoned by their fellow schismatics. So they are not following those few Bishops as persons in authority. Then the theologians or Saints they cite are only believed and followed when their words can be adapted to support their own schismatic position. Anything to the contrary of their own ideas is rejected, no matter the source.

Their source of truth is their own minds and hearts, just like atheists. An atheist believes in nothing but his or her own ideas, and the ideas of those who are like-minded. They claim to follow tradition, but they reject the sole authoritative interpreter of Tradition appointed by Christ and inspired by the Holy Spirit: the Magisterium. No one can exercise the Magisterium other than the Popes, the Bishops, most authoritatively as a body, and the Ecumenical Councils. Their version of tradition is nothing but a subculture of superficial Catholicism, draped in the points of exterior form of the past, rejecting the present living Tradition and the living Magisterium. Their own ideas are mistaken for Tradition itself.

This firm adherence to a subculture and to their own ideas as if it were a source of divine revelation is idolatry. Having rejected the Roman Pontiff, with malice and vicious insults directed at him continually — as if to prove to the world that they are not truly Christian — they make a golden calf out of a set of errors and distortions which are of their own making. What they worship is the traditional form of the Latin Mass. At the same time, they reject Christ by rejecting His Church, His authority in His Church, and by rejecting Him in holy Communion — unless they can have every desires point of exterior form. To refuse Communion except at a Latin Mass, on the tongue, while kneeling, is to reject Christ. To accept Communion only when one’s own demands are met is to put oneself above Christ.

“Recognize and Resist” is schism and heresy. The mere recognition that Francis is the Roman Pontiff is not the submission required to avoid schism. Even an atheist recognizes that Francis is the Pope. They resist the authority of the Roman Pontiff, proving that they are schismatics. Subjection to the Roman Pontiff is required of all Catholic Christians, to avoid the sin of schism.

The claim that the Church has had one or more periods of “pornocracy”, that is, of corrupt government and corrupt doctrine and discipline, is schismatic and heretical. It contradicts the direct teaching of our Lord, in plain words, that the gates of Hell will never prevail over the Church. If the “government” of the Church, as they term it, if the Apostolic See or the Pope or the body of Bishops with him were ever correctly to be described as a pornocracy, then the gates of Hell would have prevailed. Such a claim is contrary to the dogmatic teaching of the Lord Jesus in Sacred Scripture. Then to claim that we are currently living through such a period is worse still, as it rejects the recent Ecumenical Council and all the recent Popes, including the current Roman Pontiff, as if the Church were corrupt.

And who should we listen to, as sources of truth, other than the Popes, Bishops, and Councils? Very many Saints, Doctors and Fathers of the Church taught truths contrary to the claims of these schismatics. What is left? They would have us listen to articles and books by those who have only one credential in common, that they publicly express malice toward the Roman Pontiff, Pope Francis. Very few Bishops have taken their side. Those Bishops they cite are often only in agreement with them to a limited extent, such as agreeing that Latin Mass should not be restricted. (The mere opinion that the Latin Mass should not be restricted is not schismatic.) When the great East-West schism occurred, resulting in the creation of the Orthodox Christian Churches, the schismatics had many more Bishops than do these opponents of Pope Francis. And yet all the faithful Catholics of the world hold the Orthodox Christians to be in schism even today.

So the schismatics of today would have us follow an odd collection of very few Bishops, a small minority of priests, and an assortment of mostly unqualified lay persons. On these websites which attack the Popes and Councils, anyone who writes against the Church is accepted as an author. They would have the faithful follow a group of mostly lay persons, who are followed not led by a limited number of priests, rather than follow the Popes, Councils, and Saints. Such a basis for truth is absurd. Only those who openly hate the Vicar of Christ are put forward as sources of truth on doctrine and discipline. They are very much like the Pharisees condemned by Christ. They are the blind leading the blind.

See this summary of the teaching of Popes, Saints, and Councils on the Roman Pontiff.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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2 Responses to Who Decides Truth?

  1. Matt Z. says:

    Thanks again Ron for helping me understand the Church teaching. I still have a hard time understanding infallibility and non-infallibility but you have helped much. You have saved me from hellfire by helping me with the Church’s teachings on sexuality and I probably would have been a schematic right now if you had not helped me cling to the True Church and defense of the Pope. Honestly and with love brother, thank you. Have you ever thought about going on Catholic Answers or a Catholic You Tube Channel to bring the faith to others?

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