Can belief be commanded?

Please read my previous post first on the difference between reliability and authority.

Does the Church command belief?  It would seem so.  In order for a teaching to be infallible, it must be said to be binding on all the faithful, which may involve formulae such as that X is definitely to be held or that those who deny X shall be anathema.  This sounds like command language.  “Believe this because we said so.”  However, it is possible to read the intent in another way, that the command-like language is a performance to show that the Church’s infallibility now covers the proposition in question.  “We’re sure X is true, and being a Catholic you know that we don’t make mistakes when we speak this way.”  Here the appeal is to intellect rather than will.  Believe any consistent set of beliefs you like, but Catholicism + not-X has just been removed from this list, because Catholicism contains the proposition “infallible teachings can’t be wrong” and X is now an infallible teaching.  So, whatever reason you had for accepting Catholicism is now ipso facto a reason for accepting X.

Thus, I object to the following from Lumen Gentium

In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

If a teaching of the pope is not certainly known, why must we all believe it?   This is authority dictating belief.  “Believe this, not because we’re willing to say it’s definitely true, but just because you have to do what we say.”

This is certainly more than just a command to give the pope a respectful hearing, as dissenters used to claim.  In fact, I don’t accept even this, that when the pope publishes a magisterial document contradicting revelation and exonerating adultery, as has now happened, that he should be met with anything but outrage and ridicule.  Would the saints of past ages have been concerned about respect for office faced with such an abomination?

The stated duty is also more than a command not to speak against the pope’s statements.  Prematurely cutting off debate is usually unwise, but the pope might decide that debate itself is damaging the confidence or fraternity of the faithful.  Still, such a restriction would not command belief as does the instruction “the judgments made by him are [to be] sincerely adhered to”.

This issue has become urgent.  Individual bishops used to expound their own views on non-settled doctrine until pope or council made a definitive resolution.  For the past century or so, the papacy has been routinely issuing official, magisterial statements which clearly establish official beliefs for the entire Church but do not meet the conditions for infallibility.  Thus, we have teachings which, in addition to being official and of questionable connection to the deposit of infallible revelation, are quite novel:  that everyone has a right to immigrate, that the death penalty can only be imposed when societal self-defense requires it, that the Church has a duty to ecumenism, that the Old Covenant has not been superseded, that in-vitro fertilization is immoral, that racial discrimination is immoral, and now that adulterers have a duty to render the adultery debt.

Such was a danger of Vatican I.  Introducing the dogma of infallible teaching introduces the idea of non-infallible teaching.  This prompts the faithful to wonder what of the teachings they’ve been given falls into this category, which is bad enough, but when the pope gets it into his head that he needn’t always be right, he gets careless.  He thinks he is exercising restraint by leaving his pronouncements fallible, but he is really over-using his authority.  The pre-Vatican I Church had many infallible dogmas, but few commanded beliefs, while we now have many.

I myself have lost the ability to extend any credit at all to the non-infallible Magisterium, especially with the lewd old heretic currently occupying Peter’s chair.  This is not a state I recommend to anyone.  It jeopardizes my communion with the Church.  It may well be the prelude to a more general collapse of faith.  But I find it beyond my power to force myself to believe things, especially the things I’m now being ordered to believe.

62 Responses

  1. […] Can belief be commanded? […]

  2. You ought to stop interpreting the magisterium in accordance with your mind-reading of the Pope. Trying to mind-read people is a bad habit in general, but trying to mind-read Pope Francis is a spiritually dangerous practice given his manner of speaking.

    If you read the magisterial documents in light of Catholic Tradition, you’ll see that they don’t say any of the heresies you mentioned.

  3. Non-infallible beliefs require assent because they are guaranteed by a moral certainty to be true.

  4. […] When interpreting the current Pope’s magisterium (or anything, but especially Francis), it’s important to avoid this. As head of the Church, the Pope has the right to be interpreted in accordance with Catholic tradition (and does not have the right to be interpreted otherwise). Interpreting the Pope to be espousing whatever heresies you imagine he must be adhering to, but which he has not actually expressed in his magisterial teachings (or at all) is spiritually dangerous and can lead to Intentional disobedience to the magisterium. […]

  5. “Non-infallible” means not certain to be true. “Moral certainty” means “not certainty”.

    I see no way to get around “mind reading”. If I am to read Pope Francis in light of the previous Magisterium, that requires that I be able to read old documents and understand what their authors intended to say. If I can do that, it should be easier to understand the intended meaning of the Pontiff of my own time.

  6. That it should be easier to understand unfortunately doesn’t mean that it actually is.

    You can get around mind-reading by simply not doing it. The fact is that the Pope didn’t actually say any of those heresies.

    That it’s not totally certain is why the assent of faith is not due. But religious submission of mind and will is, because it is reasonably certain.

  7. A lecture that goes into some very relevant details, is here:

    Yes, the main focus of the lecture is to make an argument for why Sedevacantism is the most reasonable position to hold at present; but he does this by an argument that most modern-day Catholics have never heard. Specifically, he gets into the nitty-gritty about what the Ordinary Magisterium is, why Catholics must believe it even when it is not Infallible, why it is Infallible when it is Universal, and, yes, then concludes that all the relevant points amount to a very sure proof that the thing operating out of Rome today isn’t the Church. I suggest it not because I wish to be some sort of apostle for Sedevacantism at the moment, but because he truly does go into the exact issue you are curious about: the obligation to believe the Ordinary Magisterium, even when it is not speaking with Infallibility, and on what grounds the Church proposes this infallible doctrine.

    Probably you object because you are keenly aware that most bishops nowadays teach a bunch of garbage that no sane man would believe, and that the general teaching of the post-conciliar bishops’ councils, catechisms, liturgy, etc. (all of which are solemn acts of the Ordinary Magisterium that should theoretically command belief) are also manifestly rubbish. And luckily, we have the doctrine and law of the Church Herself, to tell us that if an hierarch publicly professes heresy (not just something you disagree with, but something already condemned by the Magisterium), then he ceases by that fact to be a member of the Church and of the Magisterium, in which case you obviously are no longer obliged to offer your obedience to him as a magisterial voice. We are obliged to obey the members of the Magisterium; we are not obliged to obey manifest heretics and apostates.

    Scroll down to where you see the one line: “So let me put my argument in a nutshell.” The preamble up to that point, is not relevant to your question.

  8. If I wanted to be a Protestant, I’d make an honest apostasy and start calling myself Lutheran or Anglican.

    Jesus didn’t say that the gates of Hell would not prevail against those they wouldn’t prevail against. He promised something much less tautological.

  9. The schismatics remain free, of course, to identify any specific heresy that has been actually taught by the infallible magisterium. Not that it would prove anything, but a heretical declaration of the Papal ordinary magisterium would also be of interest.

  10. “We’re sure X is true, and being a Catholic you know that we don’t make mistakes when we speak this way.”

    And how does being a Catholic make you know that? Before Vatican I, there was a debate on what conditions were necessary for a teaching to be infallible.

    The only way this works is if you believe the doctrine of Vatican I “because we said it,” not because it is necessarily true. In that case, you can begin to believe that the Church is infallible under certain circumstances. But it does not make sense to begin to believe that unless you are first prepared to believe “because we said it.”

  11. When I read Francis I find that I can usually interpret him to mean just about anything I want him to mean. It follows that there is no necessity for me to interpret him as authoritatively asserting much of anything at all, heretical or orthodox. Beyond that it raises the question of the extent to which there is any positive duty to read him at all. I know for a fact that I have not read every public statement of every Pope ever.

    Something about the whole premise smells rather Protestant to me. The ordinary means of receiving grace are the sacraments, not reading and interpreting every utterance of every clergyman.

  12. Infallibility – much like biblical inerrancy – doesn’t ultimately amount to much. Because no matter how infallible the words may be, the people who have to interpret them — we — are not infallible. There is a basic Protestant-ish logocentric error about the relation between language, meaning, and reality working its mischief — appealing to our vanity.

    Stick to the sacraments, and prayer, and personal humility in the face of the Divine. We don’t have to answer for the pronouncements made by princes of the Church– they do, God help them.

  13. 1. Canonical interpretation is basically textualist. It’s a principle of canonical interpretation that statements can only be interpreted in contradiction to previous statements if they are explicitly asserted to contradict them. Pope Francis’ intentions are totally irrelevant in his statements: if they can possibly be read with an orthodox meaning, that is flatly the meaning that the statements have.

    2. Counter-reformation scholastics generally believed that compelling belief is a function of legal authority, so State as well as Church can coerce. However, revealed truths are proper to the Church while truths about natural religion and natural law can be compelled by the State. (For example, the State can validly forbid you to believe in anarchism upon penalty of death, in their view.) “In Suarez’s view, canon law actually worked exactly as did civil law.”


    This is a very rich paper and well worth reading in full. Extremely informative about counter-reformation scholasticism

    3. Quite surprised to see in-vitrio fertilization on your list. Do you believe that it is morally acceptable?

  14. The Church’s teaching that masturbation (an essential part of IVF) is intrinsically immoral is probably infallible by virtue of the universal and ordinary magisterium. Though that is of course not the only problem with the practice.

  15. The purpose of Vatican I was to establish papal infallibility for those (basically all Catholics) who already believed in conciliar infallibility.

  16. I don’t reject the teaching on IVF. It has an excuse for its novelty, namely that nothing like it had been possible before. Nevertheless, the fact that prohibition of IVF comes from a time when the Church was busy making all sorts of foolish statements about racism, immigration, and the Jewish covenant automatically diminishes its weight.

  17. Nevertheless, the fact that prohibition of IVF comes from a time when the Church was busy making all sorts of foolish statements about racism, immigration, and the Jewish covenant automatically diminishes its weight.

    No, it does not. Defenestrating authority does not fix it. Putting more fuel on the fire will not put it out.

  18. Bonald,

    What made most Catholics believe in conciliar infallibility?

  19. And the gates of Hell will not prevail against it . . .

  20. “The pre-Vatican I Church had many infallible dogmas, but few commanded beliefs, while we now have many…”

    Perhaps the most notorious example can be found in the Jansenist crisis.

    On 31 May 1653, Pope Innocent X promulgated the famous bull, Cum Occasione condemning the Five Propositions of Jansenism, that he averred were taught in the Augustinus of Cornelius Jansen.
    The Jansenist party promptly submitted to the bull, condemned the Five Propositions, anathematized those who maintained them, but insisted that those propositions were not to be found in the Augustinus (and they are not quotations), or were not meant by the author in the sense in which they were condemned.

    Because the Magisterium is its own interpreter, on 16 October 1656, Pope Alexander VII retorted in Ad Sanctam Beati Petri Sedem that they are contained in the Augustinus, and have been condemned according to the sense of the author. On 15 February 1664,in Regiminis Apostolici he imposed on the clergy a formula: “with a sincere heart, I reject and condemn the five propositions taken from the book of Cornelius Jansen entitled Augustinus and in the sense understood by that same author [in sensu ab eodem Auctore intento] just as the Apostolic See has condemned them by the two above-mentioned constitutions”

    Such was the resistance that in 1669 came the “Peace of Clement IX” with both parties agreeing to silence, at least from the pulpit.

    Meanwhile, the Jansenists resorted to the famous distinction of law and fact: the condemnation of the Five Propositions was a matter of faith and infallible; whether they were contained in the Augustinus was a mere question of fact and the most the pope could require was “respectful silence.”

    However, Clement XI, he issued two Constitutions, Cum Nuper on 12 February 1703, condemning the distinction of Law and Fact and Vineam Domini Sabaoth of 16 July 1705, condemning “respectful silence” and requiring a “religious submission of intellect and will.”

  21. “If I am to read Pope Francis in light of the previous Magisterium, that requires that I be able to read old documents and understand what their authors intended to say…”

    One recalls Bl John Henry Newman’s satirical sketch, in which he imagines a Tractarian claiming, “I read the Fathers, and I have determined what works are genuine, and what are not; which of them apply to all times, which are occasional; which historical, and which doctrinal; what opinions are private, what authoritative; what they only seem to hold, what they ought to hold; what are fundamental, what ornamental….”

    The same author, with his unrivalled knowledge of Antiquity, also asks, “At first glance, what is the history of doctrine but “pope against pope and council against council” and “Some fathers against others, the same fathers against themselves; a consensus of fathers of one age against a consensus of fathers of another age; the church of one age against the church of another age.”

  22. So, it sounds like the Church is merely the oldest and most backward of all the proddy sects. If She’s not infallible, why should I listen to Her instead of Billy Graham or Joel Olstein?
    Sans infallibility, mere “prayer, sacraments, etc.” look like the short road to Unitarianism. Only stupidity (which fortunately God has blessed me with in abundance) will stop the collapse. See Newman on this point. I’m glad Aquinas didn’t take that advice.
    But “scroll down to where it says, ‘let me put my argument in a nutshell'” is the funniest thing I’ve heard in May.

  23. “Mere” sacraments? Merely the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ really and truly present?

    This is just what I mean by the whole framing of the discussion begging the question in favor of Protestantism.

  24. Bonald,

    I’m in the same boat. I’m affraid it’s impossible to know what the Church is teaching about anything. Catholics don’t even agree about what is an infallible declaration and what is not. Not that it matters, since we can only interpret those teachings and that’s what protestants do. Anyway, according to my french edition of the Cathechism (1998), since Vatican I, the dogma of the Assumption is the only infallible teaching promulgated by a pope. At this point, I can only recite the Credo and add: “I believe everything the Church teaches.” But don’t ask me what are those teachings: I can’t read minds.

  25. I ѡant to to thank you for thuis excellent rеad!!
    I certainlʏ loved every little bit of it. I have you bօokmarked tto llook att new things yоu

  26. Bonald,

    Sorry to bother you. Edward Feser linked to an article about the Bergson/Einstein debate on the metaphysical interpretation of special relativity. I came across this in the comments. Is it nonsense?

  27. Todor

    “I’m affraid it’s impossible to know what the Church is teaching about anything”

    But this is false in fact; the Church, now as in the beginning, proclaims the gospel. “Gospel” (from the Old English “God-spell” which means “God-story.”) translates the Greek Greek word εὐαγγέλιον ( euangelion) which occurs more than seventy-five times in the New Testament. Its basic meaning is “good news.”

    What is the content of this good news? It tells of the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-4). It is the “good news of God” because it tells of God’s redemptive work (Rom. 1:1; 15:16; 2 Cor. 11:7; 1 Thes. 2:2, 8-9). Since this redemptive work was accomplished in Christ, it is called the “good news of Christ” (Rom. 1:9; 1 Cor. 9:12; 2 Cor. 2:12; 9:13; 10:14; Gal. 1:7; 1 Thes. 1:8; 3:2). Because of what it promises, it is the “good news of salvation” (Eph. 1:13) or the “good news of peace” (Eph. 6:15). If the good news was not believed and obeyed, its hearers would be lost (2 Thes. 1:9). If it was received in faith, it became the instrument for one’s salvation (Rom. 1:16).

    Of this good news, the Church, trough the succession of her ministers, from the Apostles’ time to our own day is the witness and guardian.

  28. Mr Paterson-Seymour,

    How am I to interpret the words “sacrificial”, “death”, “resurrection”, “salvation”, “God”, etc.? Books are full of contradictions and fallible. My reading of any infallible teachings (assuming I know which are infallible and which are not) is just my own interpretation. And if I ask the pope, his own explanations are not infallible either. Is baptism necessary? You could spend your whole life trying to find the answer.

    The buck never stops anywhere. Or so it seems.

  29. […] from Bonald: Can belief be commanded? Certainly not now he […]

  30. […] Can belief be commanded? An examination the teaching authority of the Church and unintended (and horrific) consequences the […]

  31. I don’t agree that the appeal is to intellect rather than will. The Church commands belief in the sense of saying “This is the Church’s teaching, therefore anyone who professes to be Catholic believes this.” To the extent that someone doesn’t believe it, he’s not a good Catholic. His faith is lacking, since he places his own judgment of the truth above that of the Church. He is walking “not by faith, but by sight”. But faith is an act of the will, commanding the intellect: “Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace.” CCC 155.

    As far as being ordered to believe things by the current pope, I think you may be exaggerating the extent to which Amoris Laetitia commands assent. AL is an apostolic exhortation, which is below the level of an encyclical. It doesn’t purport to teach any new doctrine, therefore it doesn’t require us to believe any new doctrine, or disbelieve any old one. He is offering reflections and urging people to do their own reflecting. Nor does it command any change in practice or change any rules, laws or procedures.

    Lumen Gentium states, “His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.”

    As far as the character of the document, again AL is an apostolic exhortation, not a formal teaching document. It doesn’t define any new teaching or rescind any old one. One could argue that it undermines traditional teaching in that it sort of implies that people who are living in an objective state of mortal sin may not be subjectively culpable of mortal sin, and therefore may be eligible to receive Communion. However it doesn’t state this as a doctrine or even as a blanket permission, but only says that each such situation should be evaluated individually. In fact in saying that “not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium”, it seems to disclaim the idea that it is teaching or commanding.

    Again with regard to the character of the document, in this regard it’s worth noting that the main controversial point of AL is contained in a footnote and not even in the main text of the document.

    As far as frequent repetition, well, he hasn’t repeated it yet.

    As far as his manner of speaking, he introduced this idea in an ambiguous, one might even say a half-assed way.

    Summing all this up, and using LG as our standard for judging the level of assent that is required for the Pope’s controversial statements in AL, I don’t think that a very high level of assent is required from individual Catholics at all.

  32. People keep speaking as though the pope’s Infallible teaching were all that mattered – that anything “non-infallible” gets a kind of pass.

    But it is De Fide that the Universal, Ordinary Magisterium cannot teach heresy, either, and that’s what we’re dealing with if Newchurch is the Church.

    Also, it doesn’t matter if Francis is teaching public heresy in “non-infallible” documents. Declining to invoke Infallibility, means that a document of a pope’s or general council’s supreme magisterium may contain theological error; it doesn’t mean it can contradict a point of Divine, Catholic or Ecclesiastical Faith. Most modern Catholics are ignorant of the different theological notes, so important to this concept. Besides, it is Divine Law that public heretics, even material heretics, are out of the Church (remembering that material heresy is not mere error, but lack of intent to cleave closely to the Magisterium). One’s heretical disposition is revealed simply by giving expression to it, whatever the venue.

    And let’s not raise the issue of “private interpretation.” If Francis said “Jesus’ Resurrection took place metaphorically, not literally,” would your faith be shaken? Would you worry that your “private interpretation” of Jesus’ Resurrection was in conflict with the “living voice” of the Magisterium? Why, then, should the question be any more difficult on Religious Liberty, Supersessionism, Indifferentism, Ecumenism, etc., etc.? These are not vague matters still under theological disputation; the Magisterium has given clear definitions on them.

  33. And he still fails to cite where the Pope has taught heresy.

  34. Am I the only person who lacks this ability to just will myself into believing something?

  35. aureliusmoner — it seems to me that the universal, ordinary Magisterium exists where there is a clear moral consensus of the bishops, and a consensus does not exist when there is a conscientious minority of the same vigorously and consistently objecting. Hence a single Athanasius can be the bulwark against Arianism.

  36. @Bonald – I wish I understood more about your difficulty, then perhaps I could answer. For me, it is like this: 1) first, of course, Faith is the gift of God – I have Faith in Him, believe that He founded the Church, and that She preaches the Faith and thus, when I see that She teaches something, I already feel a profound conviction based on the virtue of Faith, that She is right; then it’s just a matter of figuring out how, if I don’t yet understand how; 2) while it is true that what we know through reason does not involve the virtue of Faith insofar as it is simply known, I find that reason often builds up my sense of trust and Faith in the Church, because I then see how clear and eminent and wise Her doctrines are. How is it different for you?

    I mean, if you’re trying to force yourself to believe what the post-conciliar apostates are teaching, it’s no wonder to me that you can’t believe them. It would be hard for someone with the virtue of Faith, by God’s grace, to do so.

    @ArkansasReactionary – is that really necessary, or is this just a rhetorical feint? I’ll also repeat: it is not necessary for him to *teach* heresy; he need only indicate the absence of any intention to follow the Magisterium with due fear and reverence in a publicly notorious way. So, to humour you: that he allows communio in sacris with heretics and schismatics is heretical; that he calls proselytization “solemn nonsense” is heretical; that he does “not believe in a Catholic God” is heretical; that he says Moslems worship the same God as us (when their theology explicitly rejects the Trinity) is heretical; that he expresses broad optimism and even, at times, “certainty,” that non-Catholics are saved or are on a path to be saved in their various professions of belief, is heretical; that he said he is “certain” that God saved a woman who apostatized, blasphemed Him and died an atheist, is heretical (as he told Osservatore Romano on October 2nd); that he continues to tolerate new rites for all seven sacraments is heretical; that he continues to uphold the teaching on religious liberty is heretical; that he says the faithful “must” pray with heretics and schismatics (a mortal sin against the First Commandment) is heretical; that he says Christ somehow erred or sinned when His Mother lost Him and came to find Him in the Temple is heretical; that he says the Mother of God felt “cheated” at Calvary may not be technically heretical, but it is certainly proximate to heresy and temerarious; on and on and on… indeed, it would be more difficult to find careful and orthodox statements, or indeed any evidence that he soberly, habitually strives to adhere to the Magisterium with the necessary Faith and reverence. He just doesn’t think it’s that big a deal.

    @Proph – Many things about the Arian crisis are analogous to our times, and show that such crises can overwhelm the orthodox portion remaining in the Church. Two important differences: 1) with Arianism, there was not yet a Magisterial definition on the fine points so that, even though the Arian teaching needed to be rejected as heretically erroneous, there was some leeway for disagreement before Nicaea (though the Universal, Ordinary Magisterium certainly justified faithful Catholics in refusing to accept the compromised stance of pope Liberius and others); 2) there is certainly a consensus on at least two heresies in the Conciliar church: religious liberty and the new rites. Religious liberty is taught in Vatican II, the New Code, the New Catechism, and broadly in the documents of the “popes,” the curia, the bishops’ conferences, individual dioceses, etc. While some may deplore the new rites, all are agreed in affirming the possibility and liceity of composing and/or using them (a proposition explicitly condemned by the Council of Trent, session VII canon XIII, and further prohibited with an invocation of Infallibility by Quo Primum, at least in respect to the Mass).

    I know folks think this is all “doom and gloom,” but honestly, this should not shake anyone’s faith. Be of good cheer! “In all these things, we prevail on account of Him, that loved us.”

  37. Methinks you wouldn’t recognize any Pope as valid, including the first one. After all, who could follow a Pope who denied Jesus THREE TIMES!

    I’m not going to try to rebut the many objections contained in your rant (though most of them are quite frivolous) for the same reason that I don’t engage* laundry lists produced by other Protestants**. The Catholic faith (at least insofar as its relationship to Protestantism is concerned) is not primarily about this doctrine or that, but rather about the principle of authority. The real argument to be had concerns the question “are you willing to submit to the shepherd that Jesus left us”? As in, the actual shepherd that we actually have, not some hypothetical one who meets your approval. If Jesus had wanted to, he could have made it so the Pope would be perfectly without fault, but he chose to set things up so that we would be guided by another fallible human being.

    *I do of course engage specific stumbling blocks had by sedevacantists or other Protestants, but trying to sift through a list is calls to mind a saying about camels and needles.

    **And yes, your belief that the Church before VII agreed with you doctrinally until VII changed everything is just as fanciful as Protestant notions that St. Constantine corrupted the Church or whatever.

  38. Todor

    “How am I to interpret the words “sacrificial”, “death”, “resurrection”, “salvation”, “God”, etc”

    The meaning of a word is its use: look up these words in a concordance, read them in the contexts in which they occur in the different writers. Not only that, see where theyuse them and how others respond to them.

    Trace their use in the OT (the Septuagint is important here) and contemporary Hellenic Jewish usage.

    There is no short-cut

  39. Bonald

    “Am I the only person who lacks this ability to just will myself into believing something?”

    Describing the first Christian converts, Bl John Henry Newman explains: “A Christian was bound to take without doubting all that the Apostles declared to be revealed; if the Apostles spoke, he had to yield an internal assent of his mind; it would not be enough to keep silence, it would not be enough not to oppose: it was not allowable to credit in a measure; it was not allowable to doubt. No; if a convert had his own private thoughts of what was said, and only kept them to himself, if he made some secret opposition to the teaching, if he waited for further proof before he believed it, this would be a proof that he did not think the Apostles were sent from God to reveal His will; it would be a proof that he did not in any true sense believe at all.”

    That is what Cardianl Manning meant, when he asked, “Do you or do you not believe that there is a Divine Person teaching now, as in the beginning, with a divine, and therefore infallible voice ; and that the Church of this hour is the organ through which He speaks to the world ? If so, the history, and antiquity, and facts, as they are called, of the past vanish before the presence of an order of facts which are divine..”

  40. Like I was saying, if you want to know, for example, what the Church means by “ordinary magisterium” and “sincere adherence”, good luck. There are no texts, only interpretations, and all that. But maybe those post-modern hermeneutics maniacs that gave us the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification will produce a document explaining that “submitting to our own personal interpretation” is the catholic thing to do after all.

  41. You know that the Joint declaration was not an official act of the Church, right?

  42. aureliusmoner — the consensus of mainstream NO-type bishops might be compelling if they were the only bishops in communion with the Holy See, but they are not. The SSPX, whatever else might be said about them, have consistently, vigorously, and conscientiously objected. They are not many, but they are not nothing either, and the noise they generate is irritating to the NO types precisely because it belies claims that there is moral ordinary-Magisterial unanimity surrounding VII’s innovations.

    As for the Mass, the Tridentine canon you cite, it seems to me, condemns illicit innovation by people not authorized to innovate (i.e., “every pastor of the churches”); it is not, and cannot be read as, a condemnation of any change to the liturgy in perpetuity. I say it cannot be so read precisely because that would be the heresy of conciliarism, the notion according to which a Council can bind a Pope on matters of discipline. I abhor the reform and the disgraceful way it was conducted, and the equally disgraceful way it continues to be defended today: but there is no use disputing that the Pope had the power to do it.

  43. Completely off-topic.

    Thank you Bonald and ArkansasReactionary for your answers to my comment of past April 2.

    I haven’t read it until now. I have had my own problems: my father has been diagnosed a very bad type of cancer (with very little hope) and I have been diagnosed a degenerative disease. We are praying and trying to cope, but I can relate very well to Bonald’s answer to my question.

    Thank you and don’t allow this comment to hijack the thread. I only wanted to thank and explain why I haven’t thanked before.

  44. A statement signed by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is not officially endorsed by the Church? I’m not necessarily disagreeing, but if so, isn’t this a perfect example of how ridiculously difficult the Magisterium is making things for us?

  45. I agree that it would be better if the non-magisterial declarations would cease happening.

    But yes, here* is the official response to the Joint Declaration, signed by the CDF. We aren’t bound to anything in the Joint Declaration itself.


  46. Note that while it employs the fluffy language typical of ecumenists, it’s nevertheless entirely orthodox and concise in explaining the doctrinal errors of Lutheranism.

  47. Bonald

    “A statement signed by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is not officially endorsed by the Church?”

    The Joint Declaration is on the face of it a discussion document.

    Contrast its language with the categorical statements of a genuinely magisterial document, clearly expressed as a solemn pontifical act, such as the Common Christological Declaration

    The difference in character between the two documents is obvious to anyone familiar with the styles employed by the Roman Curia

  48. Big liberal headlines with conservative footnotes for the happy few.

  49. @Arkansas Reactionary

    Predictably, it was a rhetorical feint after all

    But, for the record, if authority is central to Faith (and it is: “credo… quae Ecclesia Catholica proponit… quia Tu ea omnia revelasti Deus”), it does not follow that 1) every man claiming authority actually has it, or 2) that men with an authoritative office must simply be obeyed in whatever they command. The horrific and irrational notion of many Neo-Catholics, that authority can be arbitrary, is repugnant to reason and contrary to all the centuries of authoritative Catholic teaching, which clearly define who may exercise authority in the Church, how he comes to have or to lose it, and what are its limits while he has it.

    So, any person who takes the authority of the Church seriously, will not bow before the “authority” of persons, whom Catholic authority excludes from the exercise of authority, nor will he obey those who actually do have authority, when they exceed the limits of their authority, again, as defined by Catholic authority. All this should be plain even to reason.

    I always get a kick out of this “Sedevacantists are Protestants” notion. Conciliar “popes” actually participate in prayer and services with Protestants, and draft friendly resolutions with Protestants, and refer to Protestant, Pentecostal moonbats as “brother bishops,” and use a new liturgy composed by Protestants with the goal of conciliating Protestants, and embrace a Protestant view of sacramentals, and call Protestant heresiarchs “heroic reformers,” yet it is we, who object to so many expressions of apostasy favoring the Protestants, who are to be called Protestants! Those who live in glass houses… “In the last days God will send them a powerful delusion, so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” He that hath an ear, let him hear!

    @ Proph. – I respect the SSPX, but five dissenting bishops do not a breach make in the Universal, Ordinary Magisterium; even then, with the death of Lefebvre, the expulsion of Williamson, the silence of de Mallerais and de Galaretta, and the “generosity” of Fellay towards Rome, what meaningful dissent remains? But the Universal, Ordinary Magisterium is more than just the common teaching of bishops; it is also the duly approved Liturgy, the Code of Canon Law, the Catechism, etc., all of which go on teaching heresy and grave sin to the whole world on the highest authority. No, there are serious problems, here; moreover, the faithful are bound to submit to the teaching of the pontiffs’ encyclicals even when they have not invoked infallibility. Either we must admit that: 1) if this thing in Rome calling itself the Catholic Church today *is* the Church, then obviously the Church at any point can give us very misleading and often apparently contradictory impressions of her doctrine – in which case there is no reason to trust the “impression” of Catholic doctrine given in the past; or 2) the thing operating out of Rome today is a Protestant sect (or Masonic apostasy), which managed to pull off a coup of the merely institutional trappings of the Catholic Church, but which obviously no longer desires to hold or profess the Catholic Faith in its integrity, as is evidenced by the construction of new rites, new laws, new doctrines and an enduring hostility to anything traditional and orthodox.

    As to the Liturgy: the attitude of the Church on the essential impossibility of re-writing or composing a fresh, new set of rites, is an infallible doctrine of the Universal, Ordinary Magisterium, and was given clear witness by solemn acts of the magisterium in the theological argumentation proposed throughout Trent, Quo Primum, the condemnations of the Synod of Pistoia, etc.

    As to Trent’s decree: “every pastor” is a poor translation. The Latin is very clear: “si quis dixerit ritus consuetos et approbatos…in novos alios per quemcumque ecclesiarum pastorem mutari posse, anathema sit” (“if any man say that the accustomed and approved rites… can be changed into other, new rites by any pastor whomsoever of the Churches, let him be accursed”). Some people still try to read this in a broad sense by translating it as “any pastor,” ascribing to “any” the semantic range of “just any old pastor.” But in Latin there is a clear difference between quilibet and quicumque. Take two English sentences: “Whoever is a trustee can sign these papers” calls for quilibet in Latin; “Whosoever is a trustee must sign these papers” calls for quicumque. So, if Trent was condemning the notion that “any pastor who wished” could change the rites, it would have said “per quemlibet pastorem;” instead, it said “per quemcumque pastorem,” condemning the idea that there is any pastor at all, who could change the rites into new ones.

    And this is also clear by the context, which is refuting the Protestants’ wholesale attack upon the Catholic concept of Sacraments and the nature of the rites that accompany them. The Church was making it clear that these rites are of divine institution, are apostolic, sacred and inviolable, designed to confer grace ex opere operato by their nature, wherefore their forms and ministers must be carefully guarded from any alteration that would threaten their integrity and mar their divine, apostolic dignity and antiquity.

  50. You’re still stuck in this idea that you are the interpreter of Scripture/the magisterium/what have you.

    Jesus left the Church the Papacy as the supreme interpreter of faith and morals. The authority of the Pope comes fro God, and no he doesn’t just possess the authority because he says so. He possesses it because he was elected by the college of cardinals and recognized as Pope by the universal Church.

    Again, it simply boils down to the question “are you willing to submit to the shepherd that Jesus left us”? You still have not gotten beyond your old* way of thinking, that there can be Catholicity apart from Peter.

    *You used to be Eastern Orthodox, correct?

  51. aureliusmoner

    When he was still an Anglican, Mgr Ronald Knox asked himself a simple question: “Why did those who anathematized Nestorius come to be regarded as “Catholics” rather than those who still accept his doctrines?” “It is the same with the Orthodox; if you ask, “Who are the Orthodox?” you will be told “The people who hold the Orthodox Faith.” If you ask them how they know it is the Orthodox Faith, they say “Because it is held by the Orthodox Church.” And the Nestorians will say exactly the same of themselves and who is to choose between them?”

    What we require is a test, not a tautology and Catholics have a ready answer: “if you ask a Catholic “What is the Catholic Faith?” and are told it is that held by the Catholic Church; if you persevere, and ask what is the Catholic Church, you are no longer met with the irritatingly circular definition “the Church which holds the Catholic Faith “; you are told it is the Church which is in communion with the Bishop of Rome.”

    As he says elsewhere, “The fideles, be they many or few, be their doctrine apparently traditional or apparently innovatory, be their champions honest or unscrupulous, are simply those who are in visible communion with the see of Rome. No doubt, in the long run this means the people who are so orthodox that Rome has seen no reason to excommunicate them, so that unity and orthodoxy still react upon one another. But the fact remains that the Roman theory does give a test for defining the fideles without the question-begging preliminary of ascertaining who the fideles are, from an examination of their tenets. And in fact there can be little doubt that, in the West, our labelling of this party as orthodox and that as heterodox in early Church history comes down to us from authors who were applying this test of orthodoxy and no other.”

    It is a real test, not a vicious circle and one that is is remarkably easy of application; just what one would expect of the criterion of a divine message, intended for all, regardless of learning, capacity or circumstances.

  52. @Arkansas Reactionry

    No, you err in thinking that the necessarily personal act of understanding and conforming one’s conscience to Truth, is indistinguishable from the principle of “private judgment.” Or, at least, you think it becomes a “private judgment” when it is in error, which is not at all the case. There is an immense amount of Catholic teaching on Moral Theology, involving how one forms his conscience, what kinds of judgments and opinions a man is free to follow in the light of what kinds of evidence, etc., so obviously the act of forming an opinion, even when one must make difficult judgments on the basis of many complex data, is not a “private judgment.” “Private judgment” is the principle that one is not subject to any other, earthly authority’s judgments, even theoretically, in this process of forming one’s conscience and interpreting the data of Revelation. Every man, including the Catholic, must form his own opinions; but the Catholic does so by informing his conscience and submitting his will to the authority of the Catholic Faith and Church. The honest intent to do that excludes “private judgment,” even if the Catholic man errs.

    You and I have a disagreement, about whether the post-conciliar hierarchy has a valid claim to represent the Catholic Church. So long as we both truly intend full submission to the authentic, Catholic Magisterium, we may have erred, but neither of us is using “private judgment.”

    In any case, the supremacy of the pope and the Immaculate Conception are the doctrines that converted me to the Catholic Faith. I wish to do no despite at all to the office of the papacy, and I submit myself fully to the authority of the Catholic Church, if in anything I have erred. May God have mercy on me, and all of us in these confusing times; may He correct any errors to which we have given credence, and enrich us instead with His Truth. Fiat.

    @ Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Of course I agree generally with Msgr. Knox. What Catholic would not? I would take exception to his statement that the “fideles” are simply those who are in communion with the pope; one must also be baptized and profess outwardly the Catholic Faith. And, of course, we know that private, formal heretics, though they continue to be members of the Church’s society, have destroyed the principle of faith in their souls, and so are very improperly named “fideles.”

    In any case, no Sedevacantist denies that one must be in communion with the bishop of Rome. The whole point of the Sedevacantist thesis, obviously, is that there is no bishop of Rome at present. It is possible to have moral certainty of this. Obviously, the private opinions of Sedevacantists are not official acts of the Church. No sane, knowledgeable Catholic claims personal authority to depose the pope; but a man must follow his conscience in clinging to the Magisterium as closely as he may, regarding which see my reply to Arkansas Reactionary.

    So, your quarrel should not be with perhaps errant Catholics, who yet intend to submit to the Church in everything and follow a well-founded opinion; our enemies, are those who attempt to present as Catholicism the precise viewpoints that a long string of pontiffs anathematized, explicitly warning in their encyclicals that an infiltration was in the works with the goal of replacing the Faith in the Church’s institutions with Modernist views. In light of those warnings, the obvious crisis, and the Church’s clear doctrine on how people lose membership/office in the Church, I find the Sedevacantist thesis to be more faithful to the Magisterium than the alternatives. I recognize there are Catholics in good faith on either side of that debate, and avoid calling others heretics or “private-judgers,” as they often refer to me, precisely because I understand the principles of philosophy, doctrine and canon-law that should restrain a man from hurling such terms at people who err in good faith, yet with the intent to live and die as good Catholics, during a confusing situation.

    Finally, the dodge about it all being too hard for the poor, foolish, little people to be Catholic, if the man with the white cassock isn’t simply to be followed blindly, is disingenuous. First of all, the Church acknowledges there have been antipopes (Great Western Schism, for starters), and the Church certainly teaches that popes themselves are not to be followed if they command something contrary to Faith or morals; legitimate authority is not arbitrary, the situation can sometimes get quite complex, even beyond the ability of most laity to understand. Insofar as they follow their conscience and intend to adhere to the Church as best they may in such controversies, as I stated above, they are shielded by the Church from incurring penalty or exclusion from Her membership, despite apparent acts of authority to the contrary. Second, as with all forms of Liberalism, it is only the “learned” who can twist themselves around enough to affirm the contradictory points of the post-conciliar system simultaneously, convincing themselves on some pretext or other that its incoherence is not a problem. People who try to cling to the Tradition in the post-conciliar movement have to resort to a constant “sifting” of the Magisterium, and have to oppose their leaders frequently, or at least have to ignore them or disregard them, often, in forming their own, Catholic consciences. So let’s not pretend that simple folk can easily remain amongst the Catholic “fideles,” simply by following Francis and his rites, laws, writings and example, with the childlike innocence that befits their lowly station in life! As John Vennari rightly observed, a faithful Catholic wouldn’t trust Francis to teach his children their Catechism.

  53. aureliusmoner

    I believe Cardinal Manning disposed of the appeal to history and tradition very simply, when he said, “No Catholic would first take what our objectors call history, fact, antiquity and the like, and from them deduce his faith ; and for this reason, the faith was revealed and taught before history, fact or antiquity existed.

    These things are but the basis of his faith, nor is the examination of them his method of theological proof. The Church, which teaches him now by its perpetual living voice, taught the same faith before as yet the Church had a history or an antiquity. The rule and basis of faith to those who lived before either the history or antiquity of which we hear so much existed, is the rule and basis of our faith now.

    But perhaps it may be asked: If you reject history and antiquity, how can you know what was revealed before, as you say, history and antiquity existed? ‘I answer: The enunciation of the faith by the living Church of this hour, is the maximum of evidence, both natural and supernatural, as to the fact and the contents of the original revelation. I know what are revealed there not by retrospect, but by listening.”

    Where both Manning and Bl John Henry Newman (and later Knox) parted company with the Oxford Movement was in their rejection of the Tractarian notion that the teaching of the Church is something to be searched for in the records of the past rather than something to be heard and accepted in the living present.

  54. “Private judgment” is the principle that one is not subject to any other, earthly authority’s judgments, even theoretically

    If you hold that there is no *actual* authority you are subject to, that is the same thing in actual practice.

  55. I entirely agree that the teaching of the Church is something to be heard and accepted in the living present, though of course history is a powerful vindicator of Catholic Truth. And hence, whenever controversies have arisen, the Church herself has always consulted her ancient Tradition, the witness of the Fathers and Doctors, etc., and has even gone so far as to make plain that the Patristic consensus is a rule of faith in interpreting Scripture. If one were to interpret Cardinal Manning’s words to mean that the “living voice” of the Church can break with the substance of the past teaching of the Church, that would be heretical.

    The teaching of the Church gives us clear criteria, by which we may know the members of the Church; it is possible for a Catholic to conclude in good faith that Modernists, Liberals and apparent syncretistic apostates, are not men who represent the living voice of the Church’s authority at all, because the living voice of Catholic authority rejects them on the grounds of perennial Catholic doctrine. Even if one believes those men somehow retain office or jurisdiction, it is plain that all traditional Catholics, whether recognizing Francis or not, frequently minimize or disregard his “living voice,” depending upon the situation. The only thing to work out, is whether that rejection is justifiable or not, and if so, how.

  56. Liberals: the teachings of the past don’t mean what you think they mean.

    Traditionalists: the teachings of the current year don’t mean what you think they mean.

  57. I understand the conundrum. This is why the question of heresy makes all the difference. Pope St. Pius X made the point that the papacy is not to be questioned, because it has the God-given authority to teach. But this teaching must be inerrant. When it is erroneous, as we see with Bergoglio, we are left with two propositions. Either the Church is defectible and Christ was the world’s greatest conman (an impossibility), or the man who claims to have the supreme authority of the Church teaching is not who he claims to be (sedevacantism).

  58. @aureliusmoner Yeeesss!! Thank you for all your comments. So nice to see a sede taking a reasoned, noninflammatory approach to this subject. I agree with all of your comments.

    No one should have to do jedi mind tricks in order to explain away how a man who is theoretically infallible can manage to teach heresy. No one should have to bend over backwards intellectually to show how the Joint Declaration could make sense with Catholic dogma. The elephant in the room is the contradiction of these things.

    I find the argument of “it’s not your place to question” patently absurd, if for no other reason than the admonition of St. Paul (If I or another should teach a doctrine in opposition to what you have received…) Have we not eyes? And are we to deny what even nonCatholics see as a departure from doctrine?

  59. “But this teaching must be inerrant…”

    No. Non-definitive teaching may be erroneous, but Can. 752 provides “Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.”

    This accords both with Lumen Gentium 25a and with Donum Veritatis, “When the Magisterium, not intending to act “definitively”, teaches a doctrine to aid a better understanding of Revelation and make explicit its contents, or to recall how some teaching is in conformity with the truths of faith, or finally to guard against ideas that are incompatible with these truths, the response called for is that of the religious submission of will and intellect.”

  60. @Michael – And yet you persist in buying made in China clothing, even after the recent teaching on the environmental impact and fair wages clearly forbids it.

  61. Sorry, that was too snarky.

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