Another Note for Confused Catholics - Membership and the Profession of Faith
Another little sophism is gaining popularity at present, and it threatens like several others not merely to cloud men’s minds about the depth and seriousness of the crisis in the Church, but also to undermine the most fundamental notions of Christian doctrine concerning what the Church is and how she saves souls. Like many sophistical arguments, this one relies upon taking truths of theology, which are related in some way or other (as all theology, ultimately, is), and improperly combining them so as to arrive at a conclusion that is heterodox.
The error against which this explanation is directed is the assertion that since a man remains a member of the Church for as long as he claims that he sincerely believes that his heretical ideas are compatible with sacred doctrine, it follows that the Church can consist of a body of men who profess all manner of error and heresy, as long as the hierarchy doesn’t do anything about it. Under such conditions, there are no known heretics and the Church’s unity in the profession of faith is reduced to the profession of a purely verbal subjection to the magisterium
. You’re a Catholic if you say you are, as long as the bishops don’t contradict you – and they never
In this way a heresy is asserted – that the Church can lack her first external bond of unity, the profession of faith – but this heresy appears
to follow from sound principles of moral theology and canon law.
Now, we all know that there’s something wrong with this picture, but few seem able to say exactly what. I suggest that the reason is that they begin with the wrong doctrinal starting point, and leaving out of account the context
of all of these doctrinal principles, focus only on the trees and as a result cannot see the wood.
Incidentally, it isn’t true as a matter of observable, indeed notorious, fact, that none
of those claiming to be Catholics today display pertinacity in their heretical declarations. It is lamentably common to hear somebody say that he knows that the Church condemns divorce, for example, but
that he doesn’t agree. That’s an open heretic, shamelessly declaring his refusal of the magisterium
, and therefore no Catholic. His heresy is public, and his membership in the Church is chimerical. He has left the Church by his own act. An enormous percentage of nominal Catholics clearly match this description, so that the Church is manifestly much smaller in extension than worldly and uninformed men may think.
But the error to which I wish to draw the reader’s attention is distinct from this observation. In order really to see into this error we need to place some doctrinal points into their proper order.
The first truth upon which to fix our minds is that the Church is commissioned to teach the truth to all men, and she is especially aided and guided in this endeavour by the Holy Ghost, Who is the soul of the Church. She actually
does so in every age, to every generation of men, for that is her primary reason for existence. If God had deigned to leave behind on earth a deposit of revelation in written form, which men of each succeeding age were to consult in order to discover the means of salvation, He could have done so. But He didn’t. Instead, He revealed the truth and entrusted it to a supernaturally constituted organisation which He promised to aid, always until the end of time, in infallibly
presenting divine revelation to men every day
, and necessarily even today
. This is the meaning of the term, living magisterium
. It differs from the Protestant and semi-traditionalist notion of a dead magisterium
, one which does not speak today, but which spoke in the past and left behind it records which may today be consulted by ecclesiastically-minded archeologists. Protestants locate their dead magisterium in Holy Scripture; semi-traditionalists locate it in texts of the magisterium
from before Vatican II. (Please bear with me here – I’m not about to tell you to adopt the errors of Vatican II, or that you can lawfully abandon any
of the authoritative decrees of the Church from any previous age.)
The second truth, following from this, is that those who are not subject to this living magisterium
are not Catholics. The third truth, again following logically from these two, is that the Church therefore enjoys a perfect unity in the profession of faith. That is, all Catholics profess the same divinely revealed doctrines.
Leo XIII, in Satis cognitum
, lays out this logic in clear terms:
The Church, founded on these principles and mindful of her office, has done nothing with greater zeal and endeavour than she has displayed in guarding the integrity of the faith. Hence she regarded as rebels and expelled from the ranks of her children all who held beliefs on any point of doctrine different from her own. The Arians, the Montanists, the Novatians, the Quartodecimans, the Eutychians, did not certainly reject all Catholic doctrine: they abandoned only a certain portion of it. Still who does not know that they were declared heretics and banished from the bosom of the Church? In like manner were condemned all authors of heretical tenets who followed them in subsequent ages. "There can be nothing more dangerous than those heretics who admit nearly the whole cycle of doctrine, and yet by one word, as with a drop of poison, infect the real and simple faith taught by Our Lord and handed down by Apostolic tradition" (Auctor Tract. de Fide Orthodoxa contra Arianos).
The practice of the Church has always been the same, as is shown by the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, who were wont to hold as outside Catholic communion, and alien to the Church, whoever would recede in the least degree from any point of doctrine proposed by her authoritative magisterium. Epiphanius, Augustine, Theodoret, drew up a long list of the heresies of their times. St. Augustine notes that other heresies may spring up, to a single one of which, should any one give his assent, he is by the very fact cut off from Catholic unity. "No one who merely disbelieves in all (these heresies) can for that reason regard himself as a Catholic or call himself one. For there may be or may arise some other heresies, which are not set out in this work of ours, and, if any one holds to one single one of these he is not a Catholic" (S. Augustinus, De Haeresibus, n. 88).
The Holy Father adds, a little later:
Hence, as it is clear that God absolutely willed that there should be unity in His Church, and as it is evident what kind of unity He willed, and by means of what principle He ordained that this unity should be maintained, we may address the following words of St. Augustine to all who have not deliberately closed their minds to the truth: "When we see the great help of God, such manifest progress and such abundant fruit, shall we hesitate to take refuge in the bosom of that Church, which, as is evident to all, possesses the supreme authority of the Apostolic See through the Episcopal succession? In vain do heretics rage round it; they are condemned partly by the judgment of the people themselves, partly by the weight of councils, partly by the splendid evidence of miracles. To refuse to the Church the primacy is most impious and above measure arrogant. And if all learning, no matter how easy and common it may be, in order to be fully understood requires a teacher and master, what can be greater evidence of pride and rashness than to be unwilling to learn about the books of the divine mysteries from the proper interpreter, and to wish to condemn them unknown?" (De Unitate Credendi, cap. xvii., n. 35).
To ensure this is all clear, please note that the unity of profession which the Church always enjoys is the result
of the activity of the hierarchy, aided by the Holy Ghost. This activity is both positive and negative. That is, it teaches, fosters, and rules in accordance with divine revelation, producing faithfulness and demanding the profession of that faith – especially in the public prayer of the Church, the liturgy – and it condemns error, corrects the erring, and when necessary expels the obstinate for the safety of everybody else. The official teaching of the Church is crystallised in her authoritative texts, which are in the nature of laws, binding for all time. Her daily preaching is and must always be in accord with those doctrinal pronouncements. During any period, and in any place, where there is no active bishop actually ruling, the faithful are kept united in faith by their docile maintenance of the doctrine once handed down. As St. Paul instructs, "Hold the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me in faith, and in the love which is in Christ Jesus." (II Tim. 1:13.)
of the world today, none of this is happening, and has not happened for fifty years. Instead, the officials of the New Church have been preaching error and heresy and imposing false worship upon Catholics, in the name of the Catholic Church. The New Mass expresses a different faith than the true Mass; likewise the texts of Vatican II and the new catechisms. This is why these things disgusted and depressed, and ultimately wrecked the faith of, something like fifty thousand
priests who lost their vocations in the ten years from 1965. The number of religious who abandoned their vocations, and the number of laymen who ceased practicing, dwarfs even this inconceivably large number. No crisis that the Church has ever endured has been even a shadow of this one, in both depth and extent. Fr. Matthias Gaudron’s Catechism of the Crisis in the Church
summarises the situation:
Not only is the number of those who consider themselves to belong to the Church diminishing, but even the majority of those who are officially members of the Church no longer hold the Catholic faith! Someone who denies a truth of the Faith has lost the Faith, for the Faith must be held as a whole. If 72% of Catholics reject belief in hell, not even one Catholic in three still has the Faith.
This result is unarguably the fruit of the preaching and other activities of the responsible officials. Scholastic philosophy agrees with divine revelation and plain common sense, as always, in telling us that causes are known with certitude from their effects, for like produces like. Do men gather figs from thistles?
Disunity, manifest and extensive, is therefore the fruit of the Vatican II “magisterium” and liturgy. This disunity is impossible in the Catholic Church because the hierarchy doesn’t permit it. God has so arranged things that the Church will always be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Any body of men that is not these four things, is not the Church.
Compare briefly the situation today with that which pertained during the Modernist crisis of St. Pius X’s reign. Certain men professed heresy. The Holy See corrected them, condemned their errors, and when some continued to maintain their errors, excommunicated them. The result was that for a short time heresy was professed by a few
, so that the Church retained
her visible unity, which is unaffected by a small minority of doubtful cases (the manifest Modernist heretics ran out of the Church themselves); then the few were corrected and some of them excommunicated (thus forbidding the faithful from communication with them, for the safety of the flock), making even more manifest the essential unity of the Church. Today, the number of nominal
Catholics – and the Vatican accepts all
nominal Catholics as real members of the Church – who profess the true faith in public worship and all other external acts of religion, including their own words, is an exceedingly small proportion of the total. That is, the body which the men in the Vatican regard as the Church is essentially disunited in faith, and the Vatican does nothing about it. Nor do the vast majority of the rest of the bishops. Such a body is not the Church, and this is because its hierarchy is not the hierarchy of the Church, and that is why it doesn’t act like the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. An entire essay could be written explaining the doctrinal cause of this new behavior, which is rooted in the heresy of Vatican II that the Church includes all of the baptised. Men who hold that heresy are obviously not going to repress error with any vigour, for they do not think it matters
At this point let us review the relevant truths, and their proper order, once more, to ensure that they are clear. Our Lord Jesus Christ established an infallible, living, authority, to maintain and bring securely to the men of every era
the truths that He revealed. This activity is both positive and negative – that is, it involves preaching the true faith, condemning errors, and correcting the erring. The temporal mission of the Holy Ghost, Who is the soul of the Church, aids her in every age to ensure that she never fails. The result
of this divinely assisted activity is unity of profession
. That is, the Church is a manifest unity of those who outwardly profess the same true faith. Any church which does not display this manifest unity, is not the Church. Any person who does not profess the true faith in common with the members of the Church, is not a Catholic.
Now, with this foundation, we can consider the “exceptions” or objections which may, and probably do as a result of the confusion of this period of darkness, occur to the average traditionalist reader as he proceeds through the above. First, he will perhaps think that well, that’s all fine and good, but the post-Vatican II church is not united in faith, and so the facts prove that whatever the theory says, it’s possible at least for a time for the Church to be disunited. Second, he may, if he has read a little more detailed theology, point out that it is possible to remain a Catholic whilst professing heretical notions, as long as one manifests one’s will
to be subject to the magisterium
. Surely, if that’s the case, many Catholics could profess false doctrines, yet remain Catholics all the same, and therefore the unity of profession would consist, not in actual agreement in doctrine, but in the profession of submission to the magisterium
. Thirdly, and finally, he will probably be wondering where the hierarchy of the Catholic Church is at present, if it is so necessary for the continuance of the Church herself, and yet it is not the hierarchy of the New Church?
In answer to the first two of these objections, let us first notice that they do not seem to have occurred to Leo XIII or any of the other authorities who have explained the unity of the Church. Leo’s statement of the doctrine of the Church regarding her own unity is absolute, not conditional. This is equally true of St. Cyprian, St. Augustine, St. Robert Bellarmine, and all the rest down to Pius XII in Mystici Corporis Christi
. The Church is the city seated on the mountain, which cannot be hid; she is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. She is one in faith and charity, and this unity is manifest. In sum, the first objection above is heretical, since it denies that the Church is always one, and the second errs by improperly extending an exceptional case
as though it could conceivably be general
without running afoul of some other truth.
The key to the conundrum lies in the question of the status
of the Conciliar popes and the bishops who fomented the revolution with them. That is, not all
of the bishops, but certainly the vast bulk of the Latin-rite ordinaries. Since these men did not teach the true faith, they did not foster and defend that unity which is the first of the external bonds of the Church. The result was disunity, wherever their activity was effective
. Where their activity was opposed or ignored, the unity of the Church remained. That is, the Church
remained. This was certainly true in the East, in many dioceses, for a very long time after the West collapsed, separated as much of the Western world was from the Church by schism and heresy.
Note that here we are examining manifest facts and clear cause and effect. The fact
of disunity is no longer questionable. It was notorious in 1970, at the latest, but the situation was so confusing, and the faithful so stunned by what had happened, that a great deal of mystery surrounded even the most obvious facts, such as the heterodoxy of the New Mass. The Ottaviani Intervention asserted that the New Mass infringed the canons erected at Trent against heresy. The fruits of the New Mass put the matter beyond question, proving that it expresses a new faith, not the true and revealed deposit.
This is not to say that all
of those who profess error materially, are not Catholics. But it is to observe cause and effect in their right order, rather than to reverse them, and the consequence is that the Church remained and remains substantially united in the profession of the faith. Instead of a body consisting of 70% or more materially heretical “faithful” and an orthodox core, overseen by heretic popes and bishops, the Church is seen to remain a visible unity with a more or less large number of fringe members (the exceptional cases), men whose orthodoxy is more or less doubtful: some of whom are members, whilst others are not. The existence of a significant number of doubtful cases is expected in a time of widespread vacancy of offices through heresy. Anything else would be a proof that the hierarchy is not necessary
to unity, whereas actually it is essential
to unity, and the primary reason unity exists at all. The external unity of the Church, her common profession of faith, is an effect of the activity of the hierarchy. It cannot arise, or be maintained, without that activity. Sunlight comes only from the sun; in an eclipse, darkness is inevitable. In sum, the relative lack of unity speaks to the absence
, in those regions where disunity is common, of the hierarchy.
Again, I feel that I must repeat the doctrine of the Church in its proper logical and ontological order, given the widespread error and confusion that the crisis has produced even in the minds of those who have resisted the heresies of Vatican II and the Conciliar popes. The unity of the Church is professed in the Creed; it is absolutely fundamental to her existence. The Church is indefectible; she cannot fail, she cannot cease to enjoy any of her essential attributes or perfections. The Church is infallible; she cannot lead men into error. The Church’s unity of profession is an effect
of her infallible preaching of the truth. Disunity argues for the absence of authority acting; disunity equally argues for the absence of the Church, wherever that disunity is found. Whilst it is possible for a significant number of members of the Church to profess error materially, due of course to them being misled by wolves in the clothing of sheep, it is not possible for the Church to consist mostly
of men who do not profess the true faith. For such a condition would mean that the Church was no longer united in her primary, external, bond – faith.
Romano Amerio, despite the fact that he evidently did not perceive the full implications of his own clear principles, expressed the crucial and devastating truth as follows:
The external fact is the disunity of the Church, visible in the disunity of the bishops among themselves, and with the Pope. The internal fact producing it is the renunciation that is, the non-functioning, of papal authority itself, from which the renunciation of all other authority derives. (Iota Unum, p. 143 Emphasis in the original.)
So where is the Church? Where she has always been. The process of apostasy from the Church by priests and bishops which began at Vatican II and has been continuing ever since, has progressively built up a new church of man, in accord with Modernist programme laid down at the Council. The faithful bishops, such as Bishop de Castro Mayer in the West, and those in the East who have refused the heresies of our era (recall that the Eastern Rites were not replaced by a new, synthetic, liturgy expressing a new, false, faith), continued to exercise the magisterium
as they were commissioned to do by the Church, and the results, as always, were unity of faith, unity of profession, especially in public worship, and separation from heretics. Even in the West this separation of Catholics from heretics, inevitable and irresistible because founded on essential principles, has occurred on a large scale. Those Catholics who remained faithful to the true liturgy and the true faith found themselves expelled from their churches, and forced to gather around priests, and bishops – Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop de Castro Mayer – who remained faithful.
The Church therefore retains her hierarchy – albeit tiny compared with what it was fifty years ago – and as a result continues to manifest that perfect unity of faith that she has always had, and always will have.
Now we may return to the sophism that called forth this explanation. We notice that there exists a large number of men who do not admit
in words that they reject the magisterium
, and yet express all manner of heresies. Are these still Catholics? If they are all, or mostly, Catholics, then there is no way that the Church retains her unity, so they cannot be. The answer certainly is not the notion stated at the beginning, that the Church can consist of an assembly of men who profess all manner of error and heresy, as long as the hierarchy doesn’t do anything about it.
Firstly, the hierarchy that doesn’t do anything about heresy is not the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, as we’ve seen. There are two major alternative explanations of the post-Conciliar “magisterium.” On the one hand are those who point out that it does not teach authoritatively, and therefore doesn’t seek to bind, and doesn’t punish infractions of its doctrines. Nobody has ever been given a canonical monition for refusing to profess religious liberty, for example, or indeed for any of the heresies and errors of Vatican II. This view, this argument, terminates with the suggestion that since only obligatory
teaching is protected by the charism of infallibility, the Conciliar “optional” “magisterium” is not incompatible with the Church’s infallibility. But this argument cuts the other way, for the simple reason that the Church’s magisterium
is by nature
obligatory, that is, authoritative, so that if all the above is true, then the Conciliar “magisterium” is not that of the Catholic Church. But there has been no other “magisterium” under the active direction of the Vatican in the Conciliar era, ergo the See of Rome is vacant. On the other hand are those who argue that the texts of Vatican II, the New Mass, and the 1983 Code of Canon Law are all intrinsically authoritative matters, which implies that Paul VI and John Paul II were not true popes. In the case of the New Mass, this argument appears apodictic, since it has now been imposed for over forty years, and therefore even on the hypothesis that it was never promulgated as law by Paul VI (which I concede), it has now the force of law from custom, being tolerated (at least!) by the Conciliar popes for the whole period. On this argument the See of Rome is vacant also.
The absence of authoritative teaching from Rome, or the presence of heterodox teaching and public worship issuing from Rome, are both compatible with the vacancy
of the Holy See. The presence of a true pope is incompatible with both.
Secondly, refusal of the magisterium
is known from many indications, not only by explicit statements. This is not controversial, but rather it is commonly stated by approved authors treating of heresy and other crimes. It is pointed out that the kind of certitude that it is possible to achieve concerning any other person’s pertinacity in heresy is not metaphysical, it is rather moral certitude. Moral certitude is that which arises from experience and knowledge of human nature: that men act in accordance with their beliefs and desires.
Consider the following quotes from Rev. Innocent Swoboda, in his doctoral study, Ignorance in Relation to the Imputability of Delicts
Since subjective or internal facts cannot be proved by merely external arguments, they can be established only by presumptions and conjectures. The presumption is, moreover, in accord with common experience. Ordinarily it is assumed that when a man performs an action he is in possession of his faculties, that is, that he knows what he is doing and realizes the ordinary implications, both physical and moral, of his own conduct. (p. 180)
Ignorance of the law is not presumed, any more than it is presumed in secular law. All are obliged to know the law, and especially
so those with responsibility for others.
In presuming knowledge of law the legislator merely supposes that the individual has not failed in this obligation. (p. 180)
And, more specifically:
For example, ignorance would not be presumed on the part of one who is versed in the law, or on the part of one who holds an office, in regard to the things pertaining to his office. It is for this reason also that even though ignorance is proved, it will be judged crass and non-excusing in these cases. (pp. 185-186)
Now, surprising as it may seem to some – especially those who have read the works of present-day defenders of heretics – even in relation to ecclesiastical censures it is not necessary for a personal
warning to be given.
Since contumacy implies obstinate persistence in crime, in order to become liable to these punishments a person must not only be guilty of crime, but must also persist in his criminal course after having been duly warned and admonished. This warning (monitio canonica), which must precede the punishment, can emanate either from the law itself or from the ecclesiastical superior or judge. Contumacy can therefore occur in one of two ways: first, when the delinquent does not heed the warning of his ecclesiastical superior or judge, addressed to him personally and individually; second, when he violates a law of the Church with full knowledge of the law, and of the censure attached, in the latter case the law itself being a standing warning to all (Lex interpellat pro homine). (The Catholic Encyclopedia, article: Censures, Ecclesiastical, vol. III, p. 529.)
This explains the practice of the Holy Office in dealing with heresy cases, which Cardinal de Lugo tells us did not even always issue a warning before condemning someone for heresy.
Neither is it always demanded in the external forum that there be a warning and a reprimand as described above for somebody to be punished as heretical and pertinacious, and such a requirement is by no means always admitted in practice by the Holy Office. For if it could be established in some other way, given that the doctrine is well known, given the kind of person involved and given the other circumstances, that the accused could not have been unaware that his thesis was opposed to the Church, he would be considered as a heretic from this fact… The reason for this is clear because the exterior warning can serve only to ensure that someone who has erred understands the opposition which exists between his error and the teaching of the Church. If he knew the subject through books and conciliar definitions much better than he could know it by the declarations of someone admonishing him then there would be no reason to insist on a further warning for him to become pertinacious against the Church. (De Lugo, disp. XX, sect. IV, n.157-158, quoted by da Silveira, Essay on Heresy, translated by John Daly. Emphasis added.)
Note de Lugo’s language, his reference to a “further” warning. The promulgated law acts as a standing warning; a personal admonition is therefore a further
warning. In those cases, which indeed are common enough, where an additional warning does
appear to be necessary in order to ensure the requisite security of a judgement of heresy, it may be given by a layman, acting as witness, just as much as by a cleric acting with authority.
This doctrinal complex regarding heretics and how they are known by others is ancient. St. Gregory Nazianzus, for example, expresses all of the same concepts in the following address, given during the Arian Crisis. He is explaining why bishops cannot be excused of heresy on grounds of ignorance.
For with very few exceptions, and these either men who from their insignificance were disregarded, or from their virtue manfully resisted, being left unto Israel, as was ordained, for a seed and root, to blossom and come to life again amid the streams of the Spirit, everyone yielded to the influences of the time, distinguished only by the fact that some did so earlier, some later, that some became the champions and leaders of impiety, while such others were assigned a lower rank, as had been shaken by fear, enslaved by need, fascinated by flattery, or beguiled in ignorance; the last being the least guilty, if indeed we can allow even this to be a valid excuse for men entrusted with the leadership of the people. For just as the force of lions and other animals, or of men and of women, or of old and of young men is not the same, but there is a considerable difference due to age or species – so it is also with rulers and their subjects. For while we might pardon laymen in such a case, and often they escape, because not put to the test, yet how can we excuse a teacher, whose duty it is, unless he is falsely so-called, to correct the ignorance of others. For is it not absurd, while no one, however great his boorishness and want of education, is allowed to be ignorant of the Roman law, and while there is no law in favour of sins of ignorance, that the teachers of the mysteries of salvation should be ignorant of the first principles of salvation, however simple and shallow their minds may be in regard to other subjects. But, even granting indulgence to them who erred in ignorance, what can be said for the rest, who lay claim to subtlety of intellect, and yet yielded to the court-party for the reasons I have mentioned, and after playing the part of piety for a long while, failed in the hour of trial. (Oration 21, On Athanasius. Translation of the Schaff-Wace edition of the Fathers.)
St. Gregory Nazianzus gave this oration in interesting circumstances. The Archbishop of Constantinople at the time was an Arian, and indeed the Arians had been in control for 30 years. The faithful Catholics were meeting privately in homes, unable to attend public masses due to the heresy of the clergy. They called on Bishop Gregory to come to their aid. He did so, and began his mission in a private home, where he gave a series of lectures on the faith of Nicea, and on the heroes of the orthodox faith, including St. Athanasius. In brief, he was addressing almost precisely the same problem that we face today, and unlike our modern defenders of heretics, he was explaining to the faithful why bishops who professed Arian tenets could not be excused, and therefore were actual heretics and not Catholics.
The present crisis bears a great deal of similarity to the Arian crisis, with one obvious exception – in that crisis, the See of Rome remained occupied, and therefore the vast bulk of the bishops, even if they failed momentarily as at Rimini to profess the faith, were hauled back to orthodoxy by the energetic action of Rome. It is precisely the absence
of this energetic activity in favour of the true faith that has left the vineyard of the Lord devastated in the past fifty years, and the Church consequently crippled, dramatically diminished in extension, and lying prostrate before her enemies, awaiting the day of the resurrection, which the faithful expect in joyful, because sure and unconquerable, hope.