In the more than four years that I have been regularly posting on this blog each week, I have communicated with all kinds of ersatz "Traditionalists." While the large majority of my readers are good people trying to be loyal to the Church in this age of near universal apostasy, there nevertheless remain those that exemplify what was meant by the prophet Zechariah when he wrote, "Strike the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered..." In a time of prolonged sedevacantism, people go far astray without a true pope. I have thought quite a bit about the unusual groups that have emerged posing as faithful Traditionalist Catholics in the wake of Vatican II. I have identified the basic groups and what I believe is the underlying source of the problem. Despite their claims that they are the true remnant, most wind up placing themselves outside the One True Church. First, the groups:
- Feeneyites: Those who deny Baptism of Blood (BOB) and Baptism of Desire (BOD), the most infamous of whom are the phony "Benedictine" brothers, Fred and Bobby Dimond of New York's Most Holy Family "Monastery."
- Vacancy Pushers: This is the term I have coined for those who not only reject the "papacy" of Roncalli (John XXIII) up to Bergoglio (Francis), but "push back the date of the vacancy" by denying the authenticity of pre-Vatican II popes. They accomplish this by digging up some obscure quote from an encyclical or some other papal document of a prior pope, twist it out of context, and declare him an "antipope." There are three main groups; those who, like Michael Bizzaro, declare Pope St. Pius X (d. 1914) as the last pope; those who recognize Pope Pius IX (d. 1878) as the last pope; and the followers of cult leader Richard Ibranyi of New Mexico, who have the last pope as being Pope Honorius II (d. 1130 AD!).
- Recognize and Resistors: Those who recognize all Vatican II "popes" yet feel free to decide when, how, and if they will obey them. (Groups like the Society of St. Pius X [SSPX] and Bp. Williamson's St. Marcel Initiative, and the notorious Bergoglio-defenders,Robert Siscoe and John Salza).
- Apparitionists: People who exalt private revelations and apparitions whether approved by the Church (such as Our Lady of Fatima) or not (such as Our Lady of the Roses) over the teaching of the Church. They obsess over the alleged "true meanings" of messages (as if salvation depended on them), or even accept them to the exclusion of authentic Church doctrines in some area(s). The late "Fr." Gruner falls squarely in this category.
- Home Aloners: Like an ecclesiastical version of the 1990 movie, these poor souls think that you cannot go to any Traditionalist priest, but must remain "home alone" without the Mass or sacraments because no one (according to them) has been properly "sent" by the Church. As a consequence, Traditionalist clergy allegedly have no authority to offer Mass and administer the sacraments.
- Conclavists: The men and women who believe that, like in the case of David Bawden ("Pope" Michael), you can run a "conclave" with your mommy, daddy, two nice neighbors, and a self-anointed female "theologian" as "electors" on a Kansas farm, thereby producing a "pope." Some Conclavists, like the Palmar de Troya cult, claim "divine intervention," as when Clemente Dominguez said Christ Himself appeared to him in a vision and declared he would become pope upon the death of Montini ("Pope" Paul VI).
- Science Deniers: My term for those who think that in order to preserve the faith, they must deny modern science. You must believe that the Earth is exactly 6,000 years old, and/or Earth is the center of the universe. They treat these opinions as "dogma." It is the opposite of some atheists who think that to preserve science you must deny God.
To make matters more confusing, there are more groups, but these are the vast majority out there. Some people are not easy to pigeon-hole because they can fall into more than one group, such as the former Protestant minister, Gerry Matatics, who used to be both a Feeneyite and a Home Aloner, but is now just Home Alone giving "courses" regarding every subject under the sun on Facebook. You could also be a Science-Denier and a Vacancy Pusher, or an Apparitionist and a Conclavist.
So what's causing these pseudo-Traditionalist groups? All of them either do not understand, or willfully reject, the Magisterium of the Church. As a result, they get things seriously wrong, and most place themselves outside the Church. The purpose of this post will be, therefore, to give a proper exposition of what the Magisterium really is, and what we must believe. I will also answer common objections to the proper role of the Church's Magisterium. In so doing, I will also point out how some groups got it wrong. Nothing that will be written below is mine; I take credit for nothing. It is the teaching of the One True Church Herself. It is my hope that by understanding the teaching authority of the Church, you will never fall into these errors, and maybe this post will give you the ammunition necessary to rescue friends and family that have, unfortunately, fallen victim to them.
1. What is the Magisterium? According to theologian Parente, it is "the power conferred by Christ upon His Church and strengthened with the charism of infallibility, by which the teaching Church (Ecclesia docens) is constituted as the unique depository and authentic interpreter of divine revelation to be proposed authoritatively to men as the object of faith for their eternal salvation." (See Dictionary of Dogmatic Theology, The Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, , pg. 170). Therefore, the Church is divinely appointed to teach all necessary truths of faith to people, free from error, in order that they may attain Heaven. "Magisterium" comes from the Latin magister or "teacher." Christ told His Apostles "Go therefore, teach ye all nations..."(St. Matthew 28:19).
2. What constitutes the Magisterium? According to theologian Van Noort: "The subject-matter of divine- Catholic faith are all those truths proposed by the Church's Magisterium for our belief as divinely revealed...The principle laid down above is contained almost verbatim in this declaration of the [First] Vatican Council: 'Further, all those things are to be believed with divine and catholic faith which are contained in the Word of God, written or handed down, and which the Church, either by a solemn judgment, or by her ordinary and universal Magisterium, proposes for belief as having been Divinely-revealed.' [Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith]" (See Dogmatic Theology, Newman Press 3:220-221; words in brackets and emphasis are mine).
The Magisterium, therefore, is expressed either solemnly or in an ordinary and universal way. This is clear from both Church history and the dogmatic decree of the First Vatican Council (1870). The former exercise of the Church's teaching authority is called the Solemn or Extraordinary Magisterium and the latter is called the Universal and Ordinary Magisterium ("UOM"). Both are equally infallible.
3. The Extraordinary Magisterium. As theologian Van Noort writes, the Extraordinary Magisterium is comprised of: "(a) definitions made by the pope speaking ex cathedra; (b) definitions made by particular councils which have either been ratified by the pope in solemn form, or accepted by the universal Church. The term 'definition' covers creeds and professions of faith which have been edited or solemnly approved by the supreme Magisterium of the Church." (Ibid, pg. 221). However, this is not the usual way the Church teaches us, hence it is called "extraordinary." The purpose of infallible definitions made solemnly is to confirm what has already been taught by the UOM when brought under attack by heretics. For example, the heresiarch Arius was already considered a heretic for denying the Divinity of Christ (taught by the UOM) before the solemn definitions at the Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. Martin Luther was likewise considered a heretic for denying the Mass was a real Sacrifice, and teaching justification by faith alone, before the condemnations of the Ecumenical Council of Trent. Exactly what, then, is the UOM?
4. The Universal and Ordinary Magisterium Explained. According to theologian Scheeben, "The Criteria, or means of knowing Catholic truth may be easily gathered from the principles...nearly all set forth in the Brief Tuas Libenter, addressed by Pius IX to the Archbishop of Munich." (See A Manual of Catholic Theology 1:89). Pope Pius IX wrote, ""For even if it were a matter concerning that subjection which is to be manifested by an act of divine faith, nevertheless, it would not have to be limited to those matters which have been defined by express decrees of the ecumenical Councils, or of the Roman Pontiffs and of this See, but would have to be extended also to those matters which are handed down as divinely revealed by the ordinary teaching power of the whole Church spread throughout the world, and therefore, by universal and common consent are held by Catholic theologians to belong to faith." Pope Pius IX, Tuas Libenter (1863),DZ 1683 (Emphasis mine)
Again the Supreme Pontiff writes, "But, since it is a matter of that subjection by which in conscience all those Catholics are bound who work in the speculative sciences, in order that they may bring new advantage to the Church by their writings, on that account, then, the men of that same convention should realize that it is not sufficient for learned Catholics to accept and revere the aforesaid dogmas of the Church, but thatit is also necessary to subject themselves to the decisions pertaining to doctrine which are issued by the Pontifical Congregations, and also to those forms of doctrine which are held by the common and constant consent of Catholics as theological truths and conclusions, so certain that opinions opposed to these same forms of doctrine, although they cannot be called heretical, nevertheless deserve some theological censure." Tuas Libenter (1863), DZ 1684.
Van Noort explains: "Clearly if a truth is capable of being declared an object of divine-catholic faith through the force of this ordinary and universal teaching, there is required such a proposal is unmistakably definitive........The major signs of such a proposal are these: that the truth be taught throughout the world in popular catechisms, or even more importantly, be taught by the universal and constant agreement of theologians as belonging to faith." (Van Noort, Ibid, pg. 222; Emphasis mine).
Canon 1323 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law further gives proof of the belief of the Church regarding the UOM and imposes on the faithful the obligation of consent. The eminent canonist Augustine writes, "The universal and ordinary Magisterium consists of the entire episcopate, according to the constitution and order defined by Christ, i.e., all the bishops of the universal Church, dependently on the Roman Pontiff...What the universal and approved practice and discipline proposes as connected with faith and morals must be believed. And what the Holy Fathers and the theologians hold unanimously as a matter of faith and morals, is also de fide." (See A Commentary on Canon Law, pg.327)
Finally, a great summary by theologian Scheeben, "Although the assistance of the Holy Ghost is not directly promised to theologians, nevertheless the assistance promised to the Church requires that He should prevent them as a body from falling into error; otherwise the Faithful who follow them would all be lead astray. The consent of the theologians implies the consent of the Episcopate, according to St. Augustine's dictum, 'Not to resist an error is to approve of it---not to defend a truth is to reject it.'" (Scheeben, Ibid, pg. 83).
Remember, too, what constitutes an "approved theologian": Clerics of eminent learning, and orthodoxy in doctrine, at least as insofar their writings are used by the faithful and in seminaries, with the knowledge of (and with no opposition from) the hierarchy and the Holy See. (See, e.g,. theologian Salaverri, Sacrae Theologiae Summa, IB, ).
The Two Errors Inherent in the Pseudo-Traditionalist Groups
I) Reject all teaching except infallible pronouncements from popes and Ecumenical Councils. Here, they jettison most Church teaching. They even (ironically) reject the infallible pronouncement of the First Vatican Council that the UOM is infallible! This is akin to ripping out more than half the pages of a book and expecting to get the story correct. It's not happening.
II) Only accept those infallible pronouncements from the popes and Ecumenical Councils according to their private interpretations, and reject the teaching of the approved theologians which is how the Church teaches us through Her Universal and Ordinary Magisterium, as infallibly defined at the Vatican Council (1870).Theology, like law or medicine, is a science. As such, it is handled by professionals trained and overseen by Holy Mother Church. A layman attempting to interpret a dogma is like a non-physician trying to "diagnose himself" on WebMD or a non-lawyer attempting to defend himself in court. Would you want to entrust your possible loss of liberty to a non-lawyer's advice? Would you let a non-surgeon operate on you and risk death? Of course, no rational person would do this, yet some Traditionalists will risk their eternal salvation by trusting in wannabe "Benedictines" with no formal ecclesiastical education and training, or a "pope" who was "elected" by his parents on their Kansas farm.
- Theologians are not infallible. Yes, individual theologians can be in error, but not as a corporate body. What kind of teaching authority would that be? It is blasphemous to suggest that Christ's One True Church could allow error to go unchecked for almost two millennium, as in the case of BOD and BOB. The Church would have defected, but this is impossible. St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Thomas Aquinas taught both the absolute necessity of water baptism and BOD/BOB. This would imply that two of the greatest theologians and Doctors of the Church--brilliant men--were contradicting themselves in their own writings if what the Feeneyites teach is true. This smacks of a mental disorder being attributed to two of the greatest saints in Church history. Notice too, the hypocrisy and irrationality of the Dimond brothers who state that these saints made "innocent mistakes" regarding BOD and BOB, yet everyone else who believes it is of bad will and damned to Hell. Consider the countless popes and saintly bishops and priests who scrutinized the works of Aquinas and Liguori for hundreds of years. Their works were especially scrutinized for heresy and error when they were considered for canonization and again when being considered for the title of "Doctor of the Church." Yet not one pope, bishop, or priest caught the "innocent mistake" until an excommunicated Jesuit from Boston came along in the 20th century. Please.
- We only need to believe infallible teachings of the popes and Ecumenical Councils. The Church has condemned this very idea. Condemned proposition #22 of the Syllabus of Errors, addressed to the whole Church teaches, "22. The obligation by which Catholic teachers and writers are absolutely bound is restricted to those matters only which are proposed by the infallible judgement of the Church, to be believed by all as dogmas of the faith." Pope Pius VI in Auctorem Fidei, 1794, condemns: ''...the Church, governed by the Holy Spirit, could impose a disciplinary law that would be not only useless and more burdensome for the faithful than Christian liberty allows, but also dangerous and harmful." Pope Gregory XVI in Quo Graviora (1833) states, "The Church is the pillar and foundation of truth, all of which truth is taught by the Holy Spirit. Should the Church be able to order, yield to, or permit those things which tend toward the destruction of souls and the disgrace and detriment of the sacrament instituted by Christ?" Pope Pius XII condemns the idea popes need not be given assent in their teachings that are not ex cathedra: "It is not to be thought that what is set down in Encyclical Letters does not demand assent in itself, because in these the popes do not exercise the supreme powers of their Magisterium. For these matters are taught by the ordinary magisterium, regarding which the following is pertinent ‘He who heareth you, heareth me.’; and usually what is set forth and inculcated in Encyclical Letters, already pertains to Catholic doctrine." (Humani Generis ). Hence, not adhereing to this principle, "recognize and resist" folks can claim Bergoglio is pope because he was "not speaking infallibly" when he allowed adulterers to receive the Novus Bogus "communion" or Wojtyla was not infallibly speaking when he wrote Ut Unam Sint. It is impossible for the pope to approve that which is erroneous or evil. You must either accept what they do, or reject their claim to the papacy!
- The information on the UOM is incorrect. No, I cited the infallible teaching of Vatican Council I (1870), and the Code of Canon Law which was promulgated by Pope Benedict XV. The Church is infallible in Her universal disciplinary laws, such as the Code. The approved theologians likewise echo what the Council and the Code teach regarding the UOM.
- You reject the popes from John XXIII to Francis, so we can apply the same rule to past popes and reject them. No, you are not "applying the same rule." I reject Vatican II and its so-called "popes" based on the complete irreconcilable ecclesiology taught pre- and post- Vatican II. Everyone realized something was seriously wrong (or at least very different) in the aftermath of Vatican II. No pope or theologian taught that non-Catholic sects are a "means of salvation" as did Vatican II. As a matter of fact, the exact opposite was taught. The errors were notorious and ubiquitous; there for all to see and the rejection of Roncalli to Bergoglio is based on the loss of papal office taught by the theologians. This is not the same as claiming, e.g. Pope Pius IX was the last pope because of some obscure quote pulled out of context written by Pope Leo XIII which allegedly makes him a "heretic." There was no huge movement claiming the Church had changed from Pope Pius IX to Pope Leo XIII, who kept Tradition intact, condemned Freemasonry, and declared Anglican orders invalid. To say otherwise is just plain false.
- We must elect our own pope right away to end this confusion. Easier said than done. I agree that we need to work towards such a state of affairs, but that's very different from having your mommy, daddy, and some nice neighbors "elect you to the papacy." It has all the validity that should come with a tinfoil tiara.
The Feeneyites, and the other pseudo-Traditionalist groups suffer from what a friend of mine called a "sickness of soul." I agree. The sickness comes from a rejection of the authentic Magisterium. They fall into every imaginable error and, unfortunately, make Traditionalists look strange (at best) and deranged (at worst). Almost all of them (with very few exceptions) are uncharitable boors. I could retire a wealthy man right now if I had a dime for every time they resort to ad hominem attacks calling me (and anyone else who does not agree with every jot and tittle they profess) "liars," "apostates," etc. Then again, when you don't have facts or logic on your side, name-calling is all that's left to do. Please remember how the Church teaches us, and avoid the source of the problem that makes you "Traditionalist Catholic" in name only.