Are non-infallible doctrines trustworthy?

QUESTION: How many long held non-infallible Catholic doctrines do you consider subject to rejection as possibly erroneous and perhaps even dangerous?

A) I believe that only those teachings that are obviously incorrect, insufficiently nuanced, or otherwise untenable in light of present-day circumstances are subject to rejection.

B) Technically, all of them are potentially suspect and subject to rejection since they’re not infallible.

C) None.    

If you answered C, you gave a solid Catholic answer. You also happen to be in the overwhelming minority.  

When push comes to shove, most so-called “traditionalists” (better known as tradservatives) will admit to holding position A, even if only reluctantly. For instance, following are three prime examples of long held non-infallible Catholic doctrines that tradition-minded Catholics frequently twist, gloss over, or reject altogether as they attempt to make sense of the current ecclesial crisis. 

The inerrancy of the Church

I’ve had occasion to confront any number of tradservatives with the long held traditional Catholic doctrine which holds that the “Church cannot err in faith or morals, since it is guided by the Holy Ghost” (Roman Catechism), a doctrine repeatedly taught by numerous popes, saints, and theologians. 

Pope Pius XI, for example, teaches that the Church enjoys “perpetual immunity from error and heresy” (cf Quas Primas). NB: Not just heresy properly so called, but error.

Does this mean that even non-infallible doctrines are irreformable expressions of truth? 

No, it simply means that the substance of the doctrines themselves, while subject to correction in the way in which they are formulated, are always safe to embrace. That is to say, the authoritative teachings of the Catholic Church – infallible or not – never endanger the soul.

If this is so (and it most certainly is), what is one to make of the Council’s grave errors, the same that every self-identified “traditionalist” plainly acknowledges? 

The math, if you will, is very simple: 

If the Catholic Church is immune from error, and the Second Vatican Council plainly teaches error, then the Council cannot be a product of the one true Church. This means that the Church of Vatican II is a counterfeit church, the likes of which saints, mystics and theologians have long since forewarned. 

While the logic is eminently simple and positively irrefutable, evidently, it takes a rare degree of integrity to acknowledge the obvious. 

While some tradservatives still insist on using the hermeneutic of continuity to pound the Council’s square pegs into the round hole of tradition, the most sincere response I’ve encountered comes from those who openly treat the inerrancy of the Church as traditionally taught as incorrect, insufficiently nuanced, or simply untenable in light of the present situation. 

The requirements of membership in the Church 

The requirements of membership in the Church are well established: One initially enters the Body of the Church in baptism. From there one must persevere in unity with the Church by externally manifesting the true faith, by sharing in her sacred rites, by observing her laws, and remaining united to her head on earth, the pope. (cf Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis 22,69) 

Our Lord established a visible Church. Her members, therefore, are also clearly visible and recognizable to one another. In other words, it is well and easily known that those who do not manifest the true faith, or worse, openly attack it despite knowing what the faith of the Church holds to be true, are not among her members.  

The typical self-identified “traditionalist” might claim to believe this teaching, but when pressed to apply it to the plainly observable fact that Jorge Bergoglio not only fails to manifest the true faith but also actively opposes it, they obfuscate, treating the traditional doctrine as if it is overly complex and ultimately dispensable.

The nature of the papacy

As for Bergoglio’s claims to the papacy, the Church’s traditional teaching concerning the divine protection afforded by Our Lord to the popes – the same that has prevented even the most unsavory of them from ever dispensing the poisonous food of error to the faithful, at least until the time of the Council – is discounted by the tradservatives as “an excess” of a bygone age.

In order to avoid the mounting body of evidence suggesting that Francis is in fact an anti-pope, they carry on as if Our Lord’s prayer that Peter’s faith may not fail, contrary to the teaching of Vatican I, actually went unanswered at some point starting in the 1960s. 

Returning to the question posed at the beginning of this post, even though some sincere persons are willing to state publicly that they hold to answer A, the reality is that everyone who fails to answer C actually holds to B. 

In fact, it is not uncommon for a tradservative to throw down the rejoinder “not infallible = fallible,” as if to suggest that all manner of error, including blatant denials of settled doctrine, is possible within the Church’s authoritative non-infallible magisterium. 

What this means, whether or not one is willing to admit it aloud, is that everything that the Church so proposes is up for grabs. 

You see, once an individual concludes that certain long-held, yet presently uncomfortable, non-infallible doctrines are subject to rejection, or have otherwise been made untenable in the face of contemporary circumstances, then all non-infallible doctrine is thereby subject to reevaluation, at least in theory. 

The common thread that binds answers A and B is private judgement; it is the individual who must rely upon his own scholarship to determine which non-infallible doctrines are trustworthy at any given time. 

In fact, the most vocal and popular leaders of this diabolical movement, which is pleased to operate under the guise of “traditionalism” – SSPX, Peter Kwasniewski, Mike Matt, Taylor Marshall, et al. – openly caution their followers to stand firm against the false doctrines, the corrupted faith and morals, the destructive liturgies, etc. that are heaped upon the faithful by the Holy See and its pope! 

Think about it: There’s a reason that, in her nearly 2,000-year history, there has not been even one Saint, Doctor of the Church, or eminent theologian that has EVER so cautioned the faithful. One might be tempted to say that such an attitude is a wholesale novelty, but the Protestant revolutionaries beat them to it!

Whether or not the aforementioned men are sincerely mistaken or sincerely self-serving is not for us to decide. Crystal clear either way is the fact that their approach to the church they call Catholic and the man they call pope has no basis whatsoever in tradition, in fact, it is antithetical to the true faith.

Yes, but people like you also rely upon private judgment and personal scholarship!

Not so. Let’s revisit the examples given. In each case one has a choice to make, to either apply what the Church has always taught to explain the present situation, or to redefine (that is, to twist or reject) what the Church has always taught to fit the present situation.

  • The organization presently in Rome claiming to be the Holy Catholic Church authoritatively teaches false doctrines. 

TRADITIONAL EXPLANATION: Based on what the Church has always taught about herself, the organization presently in Rome, since its doctrines endanger the faithful, cannot be the one true Church.

TRADSERVATIVE NOVELTY: The organization presently in Rome is the one true Church, despite what the Church has always taught about herself. Yes, it teaches false doctrines, but not infallibly, and so we are called to resist.

  • Jorge Bergoglio fails to manifest the true faith; he actively opposes it.  

TRADITIONAL EXPLANATION: Based on what the Church has always taught about membership in the Church, Jorge Bergoglio is not a Catholic of any rank. 

TRADSERVATIVE NOVELTY: Jorge Bergoglio is a member of the Holy Catholic Church, despite what the Church has always taught about visible membership in her. What’s more, given that most everyone considers him pope, we have no right say otherwise.

  • “Francis” attacks the true faith but claims to be the Holy Roman Pontiff. 

TRADITIONAL EXPLANATION: Based on what the Church has always taught about the pope being our rule of faith, the Divine protection afforded to the pope by Our Lord, and the witness of the past nearly 2,000 years, Francis is obviously an anti-pope.  

TRADSERVATIVE NOVELTY: Francis is the Holy Roman Pontiff and Vicar of Christ, despite what the Church has always taught about the papacy, the Divine protection afforded to it by Our Lord, and the witness of the past nearly 2,000 years. Even though he is the pope, we cannot treat him as our rule of faith, rather, we must defend ourselves against his false doctrines!

Having considered these three fairly common examples, one must further consider:

What’s to prevent these same tradservatives from one day calling into question the validity of other non-infallible doctrines. For example:

Public revelation ended with Christ and the Apostles.

Some readers may be surprised to discover that this doctrine has never been infallibly defined, it is, in other words, a non-infallible teaching. 

If the anti-Christ arrived on the scene tomorrow, proclaiming to be God, his words no less than “divine revelation,” where will the tradservatives of today line up? One wonders, will they apply what the Church has always taught to the situation and conclude that the man is a diabolical liar, or will they accept his claims despite what the Church has always taught?

Based upon their behavior today, all indications are that many will follow the latter course of action. 

Perhaps this is what Our Lord had in mind when He said: “For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect.” (Mt. 24:24)

In conclusion, if you are among those who did not immediately choose answer C above, take a moment to reflect on the grave consequences of allowing yourself to imagine that Christ established a Church that, far from being a Holy Mother, can actually endanger her own children by serving them venomous doctrines.  

Get this right now, friends, because, truly, the totality of your faith is on the line.