Category Archives: Ecclesiology

Lessons from the Holy Office

A most lucid and clear, and far-sighted, Instruction was issued by the Holy Office on Dec. 20, 1949.

It regarded ecumenism. It consists in a set of instructions and principles for authentic Catholic involvement in the ecumenical movement.

How greatly we need to re-receive this Instruction. Each and every Catholic should listen to the wisdom taught herein.

I paste a lengthy excerpt from EWTN’s translation, but also refer you to their site for more:

As regards <the manner and method of proceeding in this work>, the Bishops themselves will make regulations as to what is to be done and what is to be avoided, and shall see that these are observed by all. They shall also be on guard lest, on the false pretext that more attention should be paid to the points on which we agree than to those on which we differ, a dangerous indifferentism be encouraged, especially among persons whose training in theology is not deep and whose practice of their faith is not very strong. For care must be taken lest, in the so-called “irenic” spirit of today, through comparative study and the vain desire for a progressively closer mutual approach among the various professions of faith, Catholic doctrine-either in its; dogmas or in the truths which are connected with them-be so conformed or in a way adapted to the doctrines of dissident sects, that the purity of Catholic doctrine be impaired, or its genuine and certain meaning be obscured.

Also they must restrain that dangerous manner of speaking which generates false opinions and fallacious hopes incapable of realization; for example, to the effect that the teachings of the Encyclicals of the Roman Pontiffs on the return of dissidents to the Church, on the constitution of the Church, on the Mystical Body of Christ, should not be given too much importance seeing that they are not all matters of faith, or, what is worse, that in matters of dogma even the Catholic Church has not yet attained the fullness of Christ, but can still be perfected from outside. They shall take particular care and shall firmly insist that, in going over the history of the Reformation and the Reformers the defects of Catholics be not so exaggerated and the faults of the Reformers be so dissimulated, or that things which are rather accidental be not so emphasized, that what is most essential, namely the defection from the Catholic faith, be scarcely any longer seen or felt. Finally, they shall take precautions lest, through an excessive and false external activity, or through imprudence and an excited manner of proceeding, the end in view be rather harmed than served.

Therefore the <whole> and <entire> Catholic doctrine is to be presented and explained: by no means is it permitted to pass over in silence or to veil in ambiguous terms the Catholic truth regarding the nature and way of justification, the constitution of the Church, the primacy of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, and the only true union by the return of the dissidents to the one true Church of Christ. It should be made clear to them that, in returning to the Church, they will lose nothing of that good which by the grace of God has hitherto been implanted in them, but that it will rather be supplemented and completed by their return. However, one should not speak of this in such a way that they will imagine that in returning to the Church they are bringing to it something substantial which it has hitherto lacked. It will be necessary to say these things clearly and openly, first because it is the truth that they themselves are seeking, and moreover because outside the truth no true union can ever be attained.

Good Old German Bishops: Pope Not Absolute Monarch

After Vatican I, Bismarck took opportunity to complain about the Church, only he falsified her teachings. He complained that she arrogated to the Pope the power of an absolute and unfettered sovereign.

The German Bishops – good old German Bishops – responded with a correct reading of Vatican I. The Council never taught an absolute power for the pope. Supreme, but not absolute, power. I cite the choicest section of the document:

“The decisions of the Vatican Council [Vatican I] offer no basis for the assertion that the pope, because of them, has become an absolute master and, indeed, because of his infallibility, ‘enjoys absolute authority, more than any absolute monarch in the world.’ First of all, the area covered by the ecclesiastical authority of the pope is essentially different from that over which the earthly power of a sovereign monarch extends, and Catholics do not challenge in any way the sovereignty of kings and princes over civil matters. But prescinding from that, the application of the term ‘absolute monarch’ tot he pope in reference to ecclesiastical affairs is not correct because he is subject to divine laws and is bound by the directives given by Christ for his Church. The pope cannot change the constitution given to the Church by her divine Founder, as an earthly ruler can change the constitution of a State. In all essential points the constitution of the Church is based on divine directives and is therefore not subject to human arbitrariness.” (DSF 3115).

Pope Pius IX publicly lauded the document and stated that it is the correct interpretation of Vatican I. The pope is bound by Revelation and by the essential foundation of the Church, and by every last infallible decree ever uttered – in its entirety, and with the same meaning and judgment as that with which it was originally taught.

What is the Church of Christ?

The Church of Christ is the Catholic Church.

Some tend to present the idea that the Catholic Church plus the Orthodox churches add up to the Church of Christ. They tend to state that the Catholic Church is the “western” half of the Church and that the Orthodox churches are the “eastern” half. That is false.

The Catholic Church is eastern and western, geographically and liturgically. She has rites eastern and western. Yet her faith is one and her government one.

We are not waiting for the Church of Christ to emerge. She is here: She is the Catholic Church. And when the Orthodox churches return to full communion with her, they too will be Catholic; each of them will be a sister church to every other Catholic church. (Lowercase ‘church’ means, to be rough and ready, a local diocese; for instance, the Diocese of Dallas.) The Catholic Church is the mother of all these sister churches. The Catholic Church stands for the collection as one whole Church (not a federated collection) united with the one local church that is, since Peter took up his abode there, mother of all, Rome.

Can a Pope Err? The Case of Liberius

The case of Liberius.

The matter is historically very difficult to determine definitely in all its details. However, Pope Liberius (p. 352-366) excommunicated Saint Athanasius. He wrote about this excommunication proudly to many persons.

Initially, Liberius stood behind Athanasius. He stood behind Nicaea. He bravely went up to Milan to meet the Emperor, who was espousing so-called “semi-Arianism.” Semi-Arianism was a muted form of Arianism. It was supposed to be a “compromise” kind of doctrine.

The semi-Arians saw themselves as those who promote “peace” and “tolerance” within the Church and the Empire. Since the Arian controversy was raging and rending the whole world, ecclesiastical and political, in two, unity was highly desirable. If the pure Arians outright said that the Son is totally other than the Father, of a substance unlike the Father, the semi-Arians said that he was “similar” to the Father.

Well, Liberius went up to Milan to face the Emperor. Bravely he stood his ground, and unjustly was he sent into exile. After some years in exile, however, he pined away and regretted his misery. Soon the semi-Arians heard of this. And they got him to agree to excommunicate Athanasius.

Then, the got him to sign a semi-Arian creed. The emperor and the ecclesiastical semi-Arians had arranged, before this time, numerous synods and gatherings of bishops that destroyed or undermined the faith. So, there were many heretical or heterodox documents floating around.

Everyone was very confused as to what the faith was.

Although on the books was the Great Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, already ratified. If the people at that time wanted to avoid confusion, they needed only plug their ears to the latest synodal document, plug their ears to the latest finding of this gathering of bishops or that, and study the truly infallible teaching of Nicaea, and they would have kept their course soundly. Some did. Some didn’t. But that would have been their compass in those troubled seas.

Well, just what semi-Arian document did Liberius sign? The absolutely certain answer to that question might not be known until the Eschaton.

However, the scholars of the Denzinger text indicate that it was the one in which we find the following propositions. 1) The Son should not be confused with the ‘unbegotten God’. A very nifty proposition for wafflers! Why? Because the property ‘unbegotten’ is obviously opposed to ‘being a Son’. The Son is begotten. But the creed conflates ‘being true God’ with ‘being the unbegotten God’. Thus, without expressly denying that the Son is “true God” the creed implicitly denies it. It certainly does not affirm it. (Although Nicaea did affirm it! Thus, once again, if the people of the day had stuck to the real fullness of the truth, and not let later watered down texts lead them astray, they would not have been fooled by a merely ‘half truth’.)

But the creed gets worse. It also states, “We do not place the Son in the same order as the Father, but we say that he is subject to the Father.” This text is very difficult to spin in a positive direction. On the surface, it seems to rank the Son as “not true God”. He is “subject” to the Father, etc.

Thus, this semi-Arian creed combines the following: a) watered down expressions of the true faith (half truths); b) implicit denials of elements of the true faith; and c) apparently, explicit denials of the true faith. In short, a very bad thing.

Yet, Pope Liberius signed off on it. Not a few very respectable Catholic scholars (Newman, Petavius, et alia), who profess the Faith of Vatican I, see Liberius here as having caved to the Arian error.

Some try to argue that he signed the Creed against his will and at the force of arms. That is a stretch. He was under duress. But he willingly signed. In fact, the Church’s Magisterium teaches that there is a difference between duress and absolute constraint, between “forced” and “forced”. If you, because of fear, you actually submit to being baptized, you are validly baptized! But if you in your heart refuse the baptism and they drag you, you are invalidly baptized. Thus, doing something because of fear does not mean you do it without freedom.

Apply that mutatis mutandis here. Pope Liberius was afraid and fearful, but he actually consented.

Some try to argue that the creed was ambiguous and so not overtly heretical. Perhaps.

But he certainly let down the Holy Apostolic Catholic and Roman Church at a time of great crisis, in which political factions desired some middle between orthodoxy and total depravity. The compromise path labeled the depravity what it is, depravity, but pitted it against the true orthodox faith as against something too rigorous, something “inflexible” (Newman, Arians of the Fourth Century, Longmans 1897), p. 322.

Obviously, the “middle path” the Emperor and the semi-Arians carved was a false path; they identified the extremes badly. The true faith is never to be considered “inflexible” (as a pejorative). It is the only truth there is known to man in matters supernatural! And without it, one cannot have charity towards the neighbor whom one should love for the greater love of God.

Papal Powers (Part 5)

Part the Last.

What other powers does the pope have? As part of his papal primacy, the pope also has the full authority of ecclesial teaching. That is, there is no ecclesial teaching authority that he does not have. Nor is there any teaching authority higher than his. (Contra Gallicanism.)

He has the power to teach infallibly on faith and morals and on what pertains to faith and morals (the so-called secondary objects of infallibility). He also has ordinary teaching authority.

As with all Magisterial teachings, one must read the latest pronouncements in the light of the foundation of the past. This is because the latest pope is bound by Tradition and Scripture and these have already authoritatively been interpreted and he and all the baptized are bound to adhere to these interpretations and to these Fonts of Revelation. (Contrary to the rumors of academics, Vatican II did not dispense with this expression ‘fonts of revelation’ even though it did not employ the expression. These are indeed the fonts of revelation when we speak of the articulated expression of the Person and Teachings of Jesus Christ. Where do we find these articulated expressions? In Tradition and Scripture. Thus, they are fonts. The rumors alluded to are red herrings rather unhelpful for the theological enterprise. What Vatican II left explicitly undecided – though it does implicitly teach in this matter – is whether or not Scripture contains everything found in Tradition. No explicit teaching in this regard. However, the implication is clear: No. Where? For instance, the Church gains her knowledge of what books belong in Scripture not from Scripture but from … Tradition! Thus spake Vatican II, Dei Verbum, 8).

Back from the digression. We must therefore situate all recent papal teachings of lesser authority in the context of the absolute truths already infallibly proclaimed. Further, we must situate all recent papal teachings of lesser authority in the context of all the long established papal teachings reiterated over the decades and centuries. Nor is silence of a matter, even prolonged silence, a reason not to hold an established, much less an infallible, teaching. It is also the case, of course, that an infallible teaching in the year 2015 would contextualize all less than infallible and earlier teachings. But antiquity is a key principle. Why? Because seldom are teachings issued infallibly. And it takes time to “establish” a teaching. Since more time is past than is present, already established papal teachings must be a firm anchor of context for almost all later teachings.

That said, I would add one final note. Pius XII lucidly stated that the living Magisterium is the proximate source of theology. What he means is that the living Magisterium, insofar as it voices authoritatively on a subject, provides the theologian with the living insight into past teachings. Thus statement should not be understood in a “dialectical” sense: I.e. it should not be read as meaning that later teachings can mitigate or water down earlier teachings. Rather, it should be understood in the sense that later teachings can help the current person focus on the key matters at stake today and on the meanings of ancient expressions. It is part and parcel of Pius XII’s message, also, that he understood the papal Magisterium to be bearer of a “perennial” mode of expression. Thus, the Magisterium in his time undertook the self-discipline to express itself in a language and thought long tried and true, very precise. So that one could clearly see the line of development leading up to the latest promulgation.

We really cannot say that this mode of expression has been preserved. And since it has not been preserved, many Catholics have thought that previous teachings have themselves been abandoned. That is an error. They have not. And since confusion reigns, I think it very salutary for people to go back and get good solid grounding in Magisterial texts from Pius IX through Pius XII and in the councils of Trent and Vatican I. These are foundational. They presuppose and clearly carry through the achievements of the early councils, which are also crucial: Nicaea through Constantinople III.

The “perennial” philosophy and theology as a very mighty weapon for the Church, to fight confusion and to dispel errors; a very lucid torch whereby to illuminate the world. Unfortunately, some people could not see the real meaning of this language and wanted something more “up to date” or “personally edifying”. Well, that is all fine; provided that one does not lose one’s bearings in the “personal” focus. Thus, some good combination of recent expressions, which bring out the personal, and the classic (which speak from the perennial philosophy) is probably the best recipe for success.

In a nutshell: The pope is servant of Christ, of the Church, of the Tradition, of Scitpure, and of the flock. And that is why he has his authority. If a pope were not to make use of his authority so to feed the flock, I suppose this would be possible. A pope could decide not to use this authority because its use might be taken to be un-ecumenical. However, whether such an action would be wise is a very different matter.

Note on Genuine vs. False Ecumenism

In the year 1864, the Sacred Office wrote a letter to Bishops of England regarding a falsely ecumenical society. The society held the view that the Church of Jesus Christ consisted partly of Roman Catholic churches, partly of Greek Orthodox churches, and partly of Anglican (ecclesial communities). The Holy Office writes,

[NB: What follows is what the Holy Office condemns] “The foundation on which this society rests is of such a nature that it makes the divine establishment of the Church of no consequence. For, it is wholly in this: that it supposes the true Church of Jesus Christ to be composed partly of the Roman Church scattered and propagated throughout the whole world, partly, indeed, of the schism of Photius, and of the Anglican heresy, to which, as well as to the Roman Church, ‘There is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.’” [Condemned View]

The Holy Office condemned the society for this heretical view. Further, the Holy Office condemned Catholic members of the society for praying under the leadership of heretics and schismatics. Finally, the Holy Office declared the true dogma concerning the genuine Church of Christ:

 [The Holy Office declares this as the true view]: “The true Church of Jesus Christ was established by divine authority, and is known by a fourfold mark, which we assert in the Creed must be believed; and each one of these marks so clings to the others that it cannot be separated from them; hence it happens that the Church which truly is, and is called Catholic should at the same time shine with the prerogatives of unity, sanctity, and apostolic succession. Therefore, the Catholic Church alone is conspicuous and perfect in the unity of the whole world and of all nations, particularly in that unity whose beginning, root, and unfailing origin are that supreme authority and ‘higher principality’ of blessed Peter, the prince of the Apostles, and of his successors in the Roman Chair. No other Church is Catholic except the one which, founded on the one Peter, grows into one ‘body compacted and fitly joined together’ in the unity of faith and charity.”

If we combine this model of orthodox clarity with the true charity that reaches out to Christian non-Catholic churches and ecclesial communities, in hope and zeal inspired by God and in search of true unity, we have the ingredients for genuine ecumenism.

Yet, this is a very difficult path. One is tempted to “temper” orthodoxy with charity, or charity with orthodoxy. But the divine faith cannot be “tempered,” for it is divine. The commandment to love cannot be tempered, for it is of God and leads to God. Therefore, we must be extreme in faith and in charity. That is genuine ecumenism.

Papal Powers (Part 3)


Part 3

Does the pope have these powers because the church of which he is bishop, Rome, has them? NO! Rather, Rome has them because the pope has these powers! Rome is the mother of all churches because the pope is its bishop.

Similarly, the Church has these powers because the pope has these powers, not the reverse. These powers were conferred directly on St. Peter by our Blessed Lord. They thus redound to the Church.

Consequently, when there is no pope, these powers cannot be exercised. An ecumenical council cannot be approved unless there is a pope. And if not papally approved, it has no conciliar authority.


Papal Powers (Part 2)


Part 2

Can a pope ever renounce these powers? No. For the pope is under the authority of Christ. And Christ himself has granted the pope these powers. The pope is not the source of these powers. He is give these powers as a gift.

Thus, a pope can never declare these powers to be non-existent? Correct. No pope has any authority to declare these powers to be non-existent. If a pope attempted to do so, his action would be void.

Can a pope ever not use these powers? Sure. No pope could use these powers at all time. It would be impossible.

Should a pope exercise prudence in regard to these powers? Of course. Bishops of local churches should be allowed to govern their local dioceses in accordance with Tradition and Scripture. Although the pope has full ordinary power over all the faithful and thus has authority to intervene in a particular parish not in the diocese of Rome, it would be most unwise for him to do so except in the gravest of cases.

Papal Powers: What are They? Are They Inalienable? (Part 1)

What powers does the pope have? Are they inalienable. We read closely Vatican I’s Pastor Aeternus, the dogmatic document on the Church of Christ, which is precisely the Catholic Church and she alone.

The pope has a power of jurisdiction or governance. The pope’s power is full, supreme, universal, ordinary, and immediate.

It is full = there is no ecclesial authority that he does not have.

It is supreme = there is no authority higher than his. (Not even an ecumenical council!)

It is immediate = for his governing action to be authoritative, he needs to run through no intermediary.

It is universal = it is over each and every baptized person, whether singly or collectively.

It is ordinary = he needs not special provision to exercise it.