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Orthodox Faith

atheist - resurrection - encyclicals - church - catholicism - ghost

Rev. Rama Coomaraswamy


'The untutored egotist merely wants what he wants. Give him a religious education and it becomes obvious to him that what he wants is what God wants, that his cause is the cause of whatever he may happen to regard as the true Church and that any compromise is a metaphysical Munich, an appeasement of Radical Evil.'
Aldous Huxley1

St. Maximus the Confessor was challenged when defending the Orthodox faith: 'Will you alone be saved and all others be lost?' His response: 'The three young men who did not adore the idol when all others adored it did not condemn anyone. They did not attend to what belonged to others but attended to this, that they not lapse from true worship. Likewise, Daniel, when thrown into the lion's den, did not condemn anyone who did not pray to God in accordance with the decree of Darius, but attended to what was his own role, and he preferred to die and not offend God than to be afflicted by his conscience over the transgression of the law of nature. Thus it is with me as well; may God grant that I neither condemn anyone nor say that I alone am saved. But I prefer to die rather than to have on my conscience that I in any way at all have been deficient in what concerns faith in God.'2

One gets tired of the interminable arguments about the nature and designation of the post-Conciliar popes, as well as of the constant refrain of many post-Conciliar Catholics to the effect that it matters not what kind of Catholic you are, as long as you recognize these popes as legitimate and proclaim your loyalty to them. These arguments are of course meaningless outside of Catholic circles, but nevertheless serve to make us look foolish to those who are interested in the Church - and worse, they are confusing to potential converts. What is worse, they serve to allow us to be diverted from the real issue that divides us. This issue is not the popes but that of authority.

A little understood aspect of Catholicism is that one must submit to authority. In point of fact, all men submit themselves to some authority, usually that of their own feelings.3 But the Catholic knows that he must accept the 'teaching authority of his Church,' and when he finds or feels that he cannot accept some particular doctrine, he has the option of giving up his faith - for, if he denies even a single teaching of the faith, he places himself outside the Church. In essence, in such circumstances he is accepting some other authority as his guide - either that of a critic who he has not the skill to answer, or more frequently his own - that is, he is making himself his own authority.

The proper attitude for a Catholic is not to 'think for himself,' but to 'think correctly.' This is what the teaching authority of the Church helps him to do. He may not understand some given point of doctrine - who in fact can state that he understands the Trinity or the Resurrection?4 Yet he knows that he must accept it, and if it is a problem for him, he must go to the Church Fathers and those in Holy Orders who are there to assist him. Thus it is that Augustine prayed, 'let me believe that I might understand, and let me understand that I might believe.'

True authority demands obedience and submission. To refuse to obey legitimate authority is an act of rebellion which in its extreme form leads to anarchy. This submission of our wills and intellects to the authoritative teaching of the Church can be seen in the light of obedience. Our refusal to accept/submit/obey is an act of rebellion, the placing of 'my will over His will.' Those who are offended by this concept will perhaps find it easier if we replace the phrase 'teaching of the Church' with the 'Truth.' It may be argued that no one refuses to accept the truth when it is shown to him. But even on a practical level, there are many occasions when all of us find ways of avoiding facing the truth. It must of course be remembered that obedience is a moral virtue, and Faith, Hope and Charity are theological virtues and hence of a higher order. One must avoid giving one's obedience to error.

Instead of arguing about the nature or the orthodoxy of the post-Conciliar popes, let us rather consider just what authority we are going to submit our souls to. It is after all, what we accept as true, and the guides provided to us that go along with this acceptance, that will save our souls. Without this, there can be no spiritual life. Without Faith, St. Paul tells us, it is impossible to please God. Now Faith is not some vague kind of feeling. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, Faith has an objective quality in so far as its 'factual' aspect is presented to us as the teaching of the Church. It also has a subjective aspect, which is our giving our assent and or submission to this teaching. Now the Church is the body of Christ in the world, or in different words, it is Christ's presence in this world. What the Church teaches then is, or should be, what Christ teaches, and hence, intrinsic to the Catholic faith is our submission to what the Church teaches.

It will be argued that there are many dishonest and or evil individuals in the Church, and indeed this is true for, just as Christ came for all men, the Church is a body established to embrace not only saints, but sinners. However the Church as such is a perfect society and cannot sin. Thus it is impossible for the true Church to teach error. Deny this and you deny the Faith.

Now, Christ established his Church on the Rock of Peter. Just as the Bishops carry on the role of the Apostles, the Pope carries on the role of Peter. Thus it is that theologians and subsequent popes throughout the centuries in making or accepting decisions use the phrase 'Peter has spoken.' Peter or the reigning pope, in his function as Pope, is 'one hierarchical person with Our Lord..' When Peter speaks, it is Christ who speaks, and to disobey the pope, as Gueranger says, is to disobey God himself. The doctrine that in order to save our souls we must be in obedience to the pope has been reiterated time and again by theologians, saints, and papal Encyclicals.5 It is absurd to petition the pope to change his mind and return to us the ancient traditional rites of the Church. Imagine a group of Pharisees petitioning Christ to withdraw some of his harsher sayings.

Now, should a given pope go to the kitchen in the Vatican and express admiration for some form of pasta, and even suggest that everyone should be able to eat a meal of such high quality he would not be doing more than giving vent to a private opinion and wish. He would not be speaking with the authority of Christ nor in any way wishing to enforce this opinion on the faithful. Clearly, the pope must make it clear that he is functioning in his role of pope before his words can carry the authority of Christ. He must be speaking from the Chair of Peter, or to use the technical phrase, ex cathedra. Put differently, he must make it clear that he is using that authority which comes from Christ and which is vested in him. When he does so, we are obliged to accept what he says is true and therefore to give him or his words our intellectual assent

How do we know when the pope is functioning within his authority? His authority has three aspects, namely 'to teach, to govern and to sanctify' - and hence he wears or wore a triple crown. Whenever he uses this authority he is speaking from the Chair of Peter, that is, ex cathedra; he is also acting as Master, and hence the term Magisterium The Magisterium is not some dead collection of rules and principles - it is a living organ and the pope, guided by the Holy Spirit, is constantly clarifying and applying the teachings of Our Lord to specific situations as they arise in the course of history. Thus in 1958, Pius XII taught that the 'pill' could be used for medical reasons, but not as a means of birth control. Similarly, some years previously he specified in no uncertain terms what was essential in the form and matter for Holy Orders.

It should be clear that there is only one Magisterium or teaching authority in the Church. It however expresses itself in two forms. It is called 'Solemn' or 'Extraordinary' when it derives from authentic definitions of a General council, or of the Pope himself: that is to say definitions of Ecumenical Councils. Included in this category are 'symbols or professions of the faith,' such as the Apostles' Creed, The Tridentine or Pianine Profession and the Oath against Modernism. It is termed 'Ordinary and Universal' when it manifests itself in those truths which are expressed through the daily continuous preaching of the Church and refers to the universal practices of the Church connected with faith and morals as manifested in the 'unanimous consent of the Fathers, the decisions of the Roman Congregations concerning faith and morals, in the consensus of the faithful, in the universal custom or practice associated with dogma. Included in this category are Papal Encyclicals.6 It is termed 'Pontifical' if the source is the Pope, and 'universal' if derived from the Bishops in union with him.

Magisterial truths - whether Solemn or Ordinary are considered de fide divina et Catholica (Of divine and Catholic faith). In the more recent catechisms of the post-Conciliar church, while slightly different phraseology is used, it is clearly taught that 'doctrines of the ordinary and authentic Magisterium are to be assented to with 'religious submission of the will and intellect,' even when these teachings are not proposed with a definitive act. (Cf Kenneth Whitehead's article in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Dec. 1998.) This statement has been incorporated into the new code of Canon Law (1983).7

It should be clear that while we can argue about what is and what is not part of the ordinary magisterium, we cannot dispute the fact that the ordinary magisterium demands our intellectual assent. Nor can we presume to teach that the ordinary magisterium can contain error for the Church (i.e. Christ) could never demand the submission of our will and intellect to error. Let it also be noted that the documents of Vatican II have been declared to be the 'supreme form of the ordinary magisterium' by three of the post-Conciliar 'popes,' and that the liturgical and sacramental changes introduced subsequent to this Council are promulgated with Magisterial authority.

I have titled this essay 'Laissez faire Catholicism.' By this I mean that Catholics in almost every category claim to be 'faithful,' while taking or leaving certain aspects of the faith which they either dislike or think inappropriate. For example, many individuals, basing themselves on some residual sensus Catholicus, dislike the novus ordo missae and cannot go along with everything in Vatican II. They choose to go to novus ordo masses said by conservative priests, when in fact any and all novus ordo masses - liberal or conservative - are authorized and are presumably of equal validity.8

Again, they have come up with a variety of solutions that allow them to 'pick and choose,' such as declaring that only the Extraordinary Magisterium is infallible; that the pope only uses his ex cathedra authority when he pronounces something in the Extraordinary area; that the ordinary magisterium can contain error (Michael Davies), or again that one need only accept those parts of Vatican II that repeat what has been taught before.(Society of Pius X - some have called this the theory of the 'dead magisterium') And what are we to say of the absurdity of the Abbe de Nantes who, after declaring Karol Wojtyla to be guilty of 'heresy, schism and scandal,' addresses him as 'our brother in the faith.' Now, none of these opinions can be labeled as 'Catholic,' and despite denials, each of them involves attempts to limit the authority of the ordinary magisterium which is equivalent to accepting some 'foreign' authority as higher than that of the Magisterium. Are we to throw out the ordinary magisterium or reduce it to some kind of interesting philosophical rumination? Or are we to select which items in it are erroneous? When Archbishop Lefebvre proposed the idea that he would only accept what was traditional in the Documents of Vatican II, Paul VI quite correctly told him that he, the pope would determine that, and that if Lefebvre did so, he was usurping papal authority. Indeed, these positions put us in the position of being Protestants; of picking and choosing what we will accept, and as used to be said in saner days, 'every Protestant is a Pope unto himself.'

It follows then, that if one accepts the authority of the post-Conciliar 'popes,' one must accept their Magisterial teachings and acts. If one holds these men to be true popes, one must obey them and accept their teachings. One must accept ALL the teachings of Vatican II and welcome the Liturgical changes they have introduced as dutiful sons and daughters of the Church. We can of course discuss them. We can seek to understand them better, but knowing our limited intellectual abilities, we cannot reject them

But there is a problem! We know that the Church cannot teach anything that goes against reason. And we know that many of the new teachings contradict previous magisterial teachings of the Church - teachings we were taught were absolutely true.9 The Holy Ghost cannot lie and cannot contradict Himself, and it logically follows that either the Church taught error in the past, or is teaching error now.

Similarly, one meets with priests who know that the 'Words of our Lord' in the new Mass are taken from the so-called mass of Luther, and are not the 'Words of Consecration' traditionally (i.e. handed down) attributed to Christ.10 They know that the new formula is dubious and fail to effect the Sacrament, so they use the old words for fear of failing to consecrate. Thus they can claim to be 'in obedience,' but in fact are disobeying the rubrics set forth on how this new mass is to be said. Still others will work on tour ships where they are independent of the local hierarchy and yet claim to be 'in obedience'; still others will join the Knights of Malta which they claim makes them dependent directly on the 'pope,' and will tell us that the pope has never forbidden the knights from saying the traditional Mass. Again, we have another example of Laissez faire Catholicism.11


1 The Devils of Loudun

2 Maximus Confessor, Paulest Press;k p. 22.

3 Even the atheist who cannot rationally defend his position, is submitting his intellect to his private opinions. The agnostic is declaring that he doesn't know, and doesn't care to know. It is an error to think that those who reject religion do not have a belief system - indeed, they believe in a host of things that differ from that of a Catholic.

4 I do not mean to suggest that a Catholic may not have difficulties about some of the Church's teaching. But his attitude must be one that seeks to understand and recognizes his own limited intellectual abilities. Having difficulty is never a reason to reject that submission which an act of Faith requires.

5 I am intentionally avoiding quotations - I have given these elsewhere, and the reader is invited to read any pre-Vatican II catechism to confirm these statements.

6 The argument that Encyclicals are not magisterial is absurd. Why would JP II write his lengthy and convoluted encyclicals, if he didn't mean for them to be used as guides by the faithful; to teach them how to believe and act.

7 While theologians may make distinctions about the degree of certainty of certain truths, in the practical realm if the Church teaches something as being true, it is simply true. The teachings of the Supreme Magisterium are no more or less true than those of the Ordinary Magisterium. Truth is a little like pregnancy. You can't have a touch of pregnancy; nor can the Church ask us to believe in a partial truth.

8 They are encouraged to do so, for no longer is one required to attend one's local parish as used to be the case before the changes.

9 Another current argument in defense of the changes is that a current pope can change the decisions and actions of a previous pope. This is true with regard to certain disciplinary rules such as fast and abstinence, but not with regard to magisterial decisions that pertain to what is true. With regard to the liturgy, he cannot change the form or the substance of the sacraments (which has in fact been done), and while he can change the surrounding ceremonies, he cannot do so in such a manner as to change their doctrinal implications.

10 In the rubrics of the new mass there are no specified 'Words of Consecration.' The words replacing the traditional formula given us in specie (precisely) by Tradition have been replaced and are now referred to as the 'Words of Our Lord.' Paul VI stated that 'he wished' these to be His words. They are of course taken from Scripture.

11 I am of course fully aware of the torture these changes have caused older priests, and that being totally dependent upon the present hierarchy for food and shelter, for them to do more than this is asking of them heroic virtue. Lacking heroic virtue myself, it would be inappropriate for this to be taken as a criticism. I would however add that I have never known a traditional priest who took a stand on these issues to starve to death.

devils - maximus the confessor - atheist - resurrection - encyclicals - church - catholicism - ghost - consecration - knights - aldous huxley - orthodox faith

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