Thursday, March 6, 2014

I know that feel, bro

Bonald of Throne and Altar and the Orthosphere asks in what sense is it possible to believe that the Holy Spirit guides the Catholic Church?
There is then an important sense in which I don’t have faith in the Church, at least in that I don’t trust Rome to promote Roman Catholicism and discourage sin.  However, before anybody tells me to get lost and become officially Protestant, consider the fact that no one believes anymore in the reliability of Rome in the way that seemed like the self-evidently Catholic position one hundred years ago.  No one believes it for the very good reason that there is no way to believe it.  Every position one could possibly take involves effectively dismissing the Magisterium as a usefully reliable guide.  Consider the options:
  1. What Proph calls “the Magisterium of the moment”:  Pope Francis’s Catholicism is great, and what looks like a gutting of morality and the sacraments is really a Spirit-mandated work of mercy.  But if that’s true, then all the popes prior to Francis were completely wrong about what they thought was their most important duty.
  2. Magisterial minimalism:  basically, no special trust is to be extended to papal or episcopal statements per se when infallibility is not explicitly invoked.  The trouble with this (aside from it being explicitly repudiated in Lumen Gentium) is that it means the protection the Holy Spirit gives the Magisterium is practically worthless.  I have no guarantee that the pope and all the bishops won’t deny the existence of God tomorrow, just that they won’t formalize it in a particular way.
  3. Sedevacantism:  Since we all admit that the Church has gone off the rails, I don’t see how this is a crazier position than anything else.
  4. Catholicism is a false religion, and the contradictions between Pius X and Francis I prove it.
 I figured out pretty quickly after coming into the Church that not every priest and bishop could be trusted to teach the fullness of the one, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic faith. At first I took it in stride. Hadn't our Blessed Lord himself been betrayed by one of his hand-picked Apostles? But the more I got involved in the life of the Church, the more I saw that it wasn't just a few bad apples here and there. There was a decades-in-the-making systemic breakdown happening before my eyes, begun before I was even born, let alone considered receiving baptism. The closest analogy to Holy Mother Church's 21st century condition I can think of is the Arian crisis when most of the clergy were heretics.

Numbers three and four are not possible. I think most Traditionalists, among whom I'd count myself, subscribe to Magisterial minimalism. Bonald may go too far in saying this kind of protection by the Holy Spirit is "practically worthless." It certainly demolishes the Catholic apologetic argument against private judgment, which was always an ad hominem anyway. Of necessity, faithful Catholics have been forced to engage in private judgment for decades now, particularly if they had the bad luck to fall under the pastoral care of cardinals like Mahony or Kasper, or bishops like Hubbard or Untener. My attitude toward most pronouncements by the bishops is "Trust but verify."

As a practical matter, this means that I regard the bishops with a sense of benign neglect. Very little of what most bishops say or write is worth paying attention to. One does not ascend the greasy pole of Church politics through bold leadership or challenging preaching. At best, most bishops speak in soothing platitudes tailored to appease each of the special interest groups and squabbling tribes that make up their dioceses. If you're expecting your bishop to come as an angel from heaven with a flaming sword of justice to chase the money changers from the Lord's Temple, don't hold your breath. I pray for my bishop at Mass and when offering a rosary, but otherwise I probably won't ever see him or speak to him again until I have children of confirmation age.

I admit that Magisterial minimalism is both unsatisfying and a double edged sword: the most aggressive modernists also tend to buy into it. John Paul II didn't declare that women cannot be ordained ex cathedra, they maintain, so it's just a matter of waiting for the current generation of sexist old men to die off. It's unfortunate that we have to have these debates about the infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium at all, but it's difficult to have that same level of trust that our great-grandfathers had in our shepherds. However, it's the first option, the Magisterium of the Moment, that is probably the most popular.

Most Catholics are woefully ignorant of Church history, tradition, and doctrine. If the upcoming Synod on the family allows public adulterers to receive communion, then I've no doubt that most Catholics will hail it as the Church finally letting go of the cruel and intolerant words of... Jesus Christ concerning the divorced and remarried. Bloggers at the New Advent network will write column after column about how those who hold to the words of our Lord are evil bigots and Reactionary Trads who must be brought to heel. They will be greatly irritated at being reminded that we're only holding to the universal teaching of the Church for over 2000 years. "That was then and this is now!"

I don't pretend to have a solution to this crisis beyond personal prayer, penance, and conversion. I pay attention to this stuff because I hate to see Holy Mother Church so weakened and battered. But sometimes, for the sake of our own spiritual sanity, we need to sign off of the internet and take it to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. I doubt that I'll live long enough to see even the beginning of the real Restoration. But by then I'll be preoccupied with other things I imagine.


  1. I would agree that most Catholics are woefully ignorant of history, tradition, and can also add that most Catholics are woefully ignorant of the different levels of Magisterial teaching and, by extension, what is infallible and what isn't.

    In regards to this blog post I will try to answer bullet by bullet point:

    1. When Pope Francis' new brand of mercy laden Catholicism clashes with what the Church has always taught at the level of dogmatic infallible teachin, the Holy Father's teachings should be rejected.

    2. Regarding Magisterial Minimalism: there are 3 levels of Magisterial teaching, 2 of which are infalliable and 1 of which isn't. Extraordinary Infallible teaching can come via an ex Cathera statement or via a DOGMATIC COUNSEL (which VatII wasn't), or via what is called Ordinary Infallible Magesterium which is simply what the Church has always believed to be binding truth at all times, by all the Faithful, in all places. The third is called merely Authentic Magisterium, which simply means it comes from an authentic Catholic teaching source, but is not necessarily guarded from error by the Holy Ghost. Why these distinctions are important is because it protects the Church and the Faithful from "a pope or bishops who would deny God tomorrow" in that if a pope or bishop were to do so, then it would contradict previous dogmatic infallible Magisterial teaching and therefore must be rejected and in no way can be made mandatory upon the Faithful to believe such trash.

    3. Regarding Sedevacantism: this doesn't merely state the Church has gone off of the rails, but that the Church is no longer visible in the sense that the Chair of Peter is Vacant. The First Vat Counsel dogmatically declared that the Chair would always have a visible heir. If Sedevacantism is true, then VAT ONE was wrong and the Church, which is supposed to always be visible in the sense that the faithful knew who their shepherds where, is no longer visible, and in my humble opinion this would mean that the gates of Hell have prevailed against her which Our Lord said would never happen.

    4. There has never been conflict between are among popes at the level of Dogmatic teaching, and hence, the #4 statement above is just sheer nonesense.

    One more thing, Catholics who hold fast to what the Church has always taught at the level of dogma, despite what the Newchurch men might say, are not engaging in "priviate judgement". Private judgement sets the individual up as judge and jury...the traditional Catholic may his own jury at times in these dark times, but for him the judge is the Infallible Magisterium, Tradition, and Scripture as interpreted by 2000 years of Magisterial teaching.

    Love your blog BTW.

    1. As I understand it, the sedevacantist argues like this:

      1. The pope cannot possibly say or do anything scandalous or destructive.
      2. Every pope since Pius XII has said and done many scandalous and destructive things.
      3. Therefore, they were not true popes.

      Was the see vacant during the papacies of John XXII or Benedict IX?

      And thank you for your readership. How'd you find me?

  2. Found your blog via Rorate are listed on their blog row.

    And from my admittedly limited knowlege of sedevacantism...that's how I understand it as well. I have read some interesting rebuttals on the SSPX website concerning the errors of sedevacantism, or what the SSPX considers their error. Interesting stuff, but some of it is very arcane and philosophical, which is kinda of cool, but definitely takes some concerted effort to read.

    Anyway, thanks again for your blog and service to Holy Mother Church. You have a good writing style also...not squishy or wimpy. Happy Lent, and Pax Tecum.