At Holy Mass this past Sunday, the sermon focused on the necessity of being docile, passive, and receptive to God’s grace. Father emphasized how crucial it is for us to trust in Him more so than ourselves. He warned that over-reliance upon our daily routines, even those of a pious nature, can be spiritually detrimental and cause us to lose perspective in the face of difficulty.
Father drew parallels between our spiritual lives and the mustard seed and the leaven as mentioned in the Gospel reading wherein Our Lord said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed … The Kingdom of Heaven is like to leaven.”
As the seed needs to be watered in order to grow into something great, and as the leaven needs heat in order to cause the dough to rise, so too must we allow God to provide what we need that we may flourish, Father pointed out.
All in all, it was a good sermon, and a timely one for me in light of a lengthy conversation I’ve been having with a fellow Catholic. I’ll return to that momentarily.
Unfortunately, what Father did not touch on is the indispensable role of the Church in this proposition. It is, after all, not merely like the Kingdom of Heaven, it is the Kingdom of Christ on earth, and we desperately need it.
You see, our fallen human nature is such that even when we are entirely sincere in our efforts to remain docile and open to the influence of God’s grace in our lives, on our own, we are prone to confusion, error, and the ever-present danger posed by those “evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.”
Our Lord knows this, and so He established a Church that is both a Holy Mother and a dependable Teacher whom the faithful can trust to provide safe harbor amid any spiritual tempest that may come along.
It is for this reason that St. John of the Cross, regarding impulses of the soul, advises that we peacefully rely on the Church to lead the way:
Whether such things come from the good or the bad spirit, the best thing is not to be in the least concerned about that, and to allow ourselves to be guided in everything according to the lights of reason, the teachings of the Church and the doctrine of Christ.
Indeed, apart from relying with childlike trust upon the sacred Magisterium of the Holy Catholic Church, one cannot claim to have trust in God. The Church is nothing less than the Mystical Body of Christ, with Our Lord as her Head and the Holy Ghost as her soul.
So, where do you stand in this regard? Can you honestly say, “In God I trust,” or put another way, do you genuinely believe that the sacred Magisterium of the Holy Catholic Church can be trusted?
[NOTE: Those who may already be feeling the urge to preemptively set up such worn out old straw men as “the institutional Church” and “the Church humanly speaking,” may profit from the following: Beware the “institutional Church / valid Catholic” hoax. Here we will be discussing the authoritative teaching acts of the sacred Magisterium, teaching that necessarily comes to us through churchmen.]
To illustrate just what it means to trust the sacred Magisterium of the Church, as opposed to placing greater trust in one’s own learning, we will turn to Cardinal Johannes Baptist Franzelin, S.J. (1816-1886), one of the most highly regarded theologians of the pre-conciliar age.
In his classic work, De divina Traditione et Scriptura, Cardinal Franzelin wrote:
The Holy Apostolic See, to which has been committed custody of the deposit of faith, and upon which has been enjoined the duty and office of feeding the entire Church unto the salvation of souls, is able either to prescribe as to be followed, or to proscribe as not to be followed, theological opinions insofar as they are connected with theological matters—not solely from the intention of deciding truth infallibly by a definitive sentence, but even without that, from the necessity and intention, either simply or for determinate circumstances, of providing for the security of Catholic doctrine.
Let’s stop here for a moment just to make certain that we are entirely clear:
His Eminence is saying that when the Church teaches – even if in a non-infallible way that requires the assent of faith – she always does so in a manner that provides for the security of Catholic doctrine. In other words, the sacred Magisterium of the Church never does violence to Catholic doctrine as it has been handed down.
Cardinal Franzelin continues:
In declarations of this sort, although there be not an infallible truth of doctrine—because ex hypothesi there is no intention of deciding this—yet is there an infallible security, insofar as it is safe for all to embrace it [what is taught], and it is not safe [what is condemned], nor can it happen without violation of the due submission toward the divinely constituted Magisterium, that the faithful should refuse to embrace it.
His Eminence went on to say that these non-infallible teachings “require obedience which includes a submission of the mind,” not because they are irreformable expressions of truth as in the case of an infallible definition, but because “the teaching contained in such a judgment is secure.”
Is it possible for a non-infallible teaching to stand in need of correction on some specific point that is not already addressed by the traditional Catholic doctrine?
Yes, it is possible that, upon further theological inquiry, a given non-infallible teaching may be corrected accordingly, but let’s be perfectly clear:
The non-infallible ordinary magisterium cannot contradict traditional Catholic doctrine and, furthermore, it can never pose a danger to the faithful. This is why Cardinal Franzelin can state unequivocally that such teachings provide “an infallible security” and are “safe for all to embrace.”
This is the context in which the Roman Catechism teaches:
This one Church cannot err in faith or morals, since it is guided by the Holy Ghost; so, on the contrary, all other societies arrogating to themselves the name of church, must necessarily, because guided by the spirit of the devil, be sunk in the most pernicious errors, both doctrinal and moral.
It is in vogue these days for confused “traditional” Catholics to insist, as did my recent interlocutor: “Non-infallible teaching is not definitive, it can contain error!” This is often followed by the declaration, “I can, therefore, reject it! I am obliged to oppose it!”
Not long ago, I was one of those confused individuals, but what has Catholic tradition to say about such things?
As noted, it is true that, on “very rare” occasion (see Msgr. G. Van Noort, De Fide Divina), a learned theologian may determine, or at least credibly suspect, that a non-infallible teaching may contain an error. What then? At this point, he may approach the Holy See and withhold interior assent – while also upholding the obligation to remain silent on the matter – until Rome clarifies. Furthermore, Catholic tradition is also perfectly clear that this does not mean to suggest that any sort of error is possible.
The Roman Catechism (cited above) provides the proper understanding when it assures us that the Holy Catholic Church cannot subject the faithful to “pernicious errors” (that is to say, harmful errors) of either a doctrinal or moral kind.
Do you believe this?
In other words, do you trust that the sacred Magisterium of the Catholic Church is always safe and can never present a danger to us? This is, after all, an indisputable, basic, tenet of the Faith that has been handed down throughout the centuries.
So, do you believe it?
I suspect that most of the readership of this space cannot honestly answer yes to this question. The reason isn’t so much that the desire to trust the sacred Magisterium of the Church is absent, or that there is doubt with respect to the traditional teachings cited above, rather, it is due to genuine (albeit at times, willful) confusion concerning the identity of the Church in our day.
A perfect example was recently given by my aforementioned interlocutor when he professed the following concurrent beliefs:
1) Vatican Council II contradicted the traditional doctrine and, therefore, taught in a way that is objectively harmful to the faithful.
2) The Council was, as it plainly claims to be, a non-infallible, authentic, exercise of the Supreme Magisterium of the Church.
As the preceding commentary from Cardinal Franzelin makes plain, these two propositions are mutually exclusive.
We need not waste any time here demonstrating the fact that assertion number one is true; Vatican Council II most certainly did teach pernicious error.
This necessarily means, however, that assertion number two is absolutely false: Vatican II cannot be what it, and every post-conciliar putative pope, claims it is, namely, an exercise of the sacred Magisterium of the Holy Catholic Church. The fact that the Council claims to be non-infallible, non-definitive, non-binding, etc., in no way serves as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card; either it is of the Church or it is not.
So, if Vatican II is not an exercise of the Church of Christ at all, as Catholic tradition plainly insists, what exactly is it?
The Roman Catechism tells us, as if to forewarn us: It is the product of a society that has arrogated to itself the name of church, one that is guided by the spirit of the devil.
Does acknowledging as much invite some unpleasant implications? Will doing so publicly likely mean losing your seat at the table with the “cool” kids of tradservative Catholic media? Could it even jeopardize your personal relationships?
Absolutely, but the truth is the truth, and if we genuinely trust the Church, if “In God We Trust,” then we must embrace that truth – Truth, more properly – allowing Him to lead us wherever He will, knowing that this is the only way to remain infallibly secure.