A few days ago, I watched an interview of astrophysicist Dr. Willie Soon, an “anthropogenic climate change denier” (i.e., he’s not on the globalist payroll) who repeated the following quote:
“I would rather have questions that cannot be answered than answers that cannot be questioned.”
Even though this quote is evidently well-known in scientific circles, that was the first time I’d ever heard it, at which point, I immediately thought of my interactions with certain tradservatives:
- We must resist the pope!
- OK, but when in the entire history of the Catholic Church did a pope, a council, a Father, a Doctor, or an eminent theologian ever exhort the faithful to scrutinize the authentic papal magisterium and to resist that which strikes us as dangerous? When did such men ever suggest that we are empowered to dismiss papal teaching as “non-magisterial” for the same reason?
- Pope Francis is contradicting the true Faith! We must resist the pope!
- But if he’s contradicting the true Faith, doesn’t that mean he’s not Catholic?
- Sedevacantism is schismatic! We must resist the pope!
In this regard, the resist-the-pope movement is very much like the climate change movement: Both are constructed upon a monolithic answer that simply cannot be questioned, at least not directly, and those who do question the movements’ conclusions are often dismissed out of hand as either “science deniers” or “schismatics.”
Case in point, reactions to my critique of Dr. John Joy’s argument against what he calls “the infallible safety thesis.”
For those unfamiliar, what Joy and most resist-the-pope proponents reject is any assurance that the authoritative non-definitive papal magisterium – although neither infallible nor irreformable – is always safe for the faithful to embrace. That is to say, one can be certain that such teaching is always free of dangerous error.
Last week on social media, I pointed out (while linking to my article) that Joy offered exactly zero citations from Catholic tradition in support of his own thesis, namely, his contention that dangerous error in authoritative papal teaching is certainly possible, in which case one’s “basic knowledge of the faith” is necessary and sufficient for providing safe harbor.
The reason for this lack of traditional support, I proposed, is because none exists.
Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, who hailed Joy’s article as “one of the most important essays of 2023,” responded – not by delivering what Joy failed to provide – but by saying that an erring pope is far easier to explain than the papacy being vacant for six-plus decades.
I am sorry to say that “Yea, but sedevacantism…” seems to be the go-to rejoinder from resist-the-pope proponents when confronted with the utter lack of support in Catholic tradition for their position. It’s the equivalent of shouting “conspiracy theorist,” a weapon that all too often shuts down debate before it even has a chance to begin in earnest.
Even so, let’s honor Dr. Kwasniewski’s objection, somewhat off-topic though it is, with a response.
Theologians have speculated as to how long an extended interregnum might last, and the reality is that we simply do not know what God might allow in this regard. In other words, this is a good example of a question that cannot be answered.
Now, let’s discuss certain questions that can be answered, specifically the sorts of things we can and do know with respect to an extended interregnum and a given man’s claims to membership in the Mystical Body of Christ, an obvious prerequisite for being the visible head of the Church on earth.
- Will the Church always have what she needs in order to elect a true pope?
- Yes, she is indefectible.
- What would it mean, practically speaking, for the gates of Hell to prevail against the Church?
- It would mean that the Church is not indefectible, i.e., the See of St. Peter would cease to remain unblemished by error (cf Vatican Council I, Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 4)
- Is it possible for the See of St. Peter to become blemished by any error?
- No. This would be tantamount to the gates of Hell prevailing against her and thus her defection.
- Can we know, by simple observation and inquiry, whether or not a particular man is a member of the Mystical Body of Christ?
- Certainly, e.g., those who externally manifest a false faith, and most assuredly in the case of one who rejects multiple calls to correction, are not members of the Catholic Church.
- How do we know this?
- Pope Pius XII reiterated what the Church has always taught about membership in the Church, namely, that the external manifestation of the true faith is among the necessary criteria. (See Mystici Corporis).
- What does this say about Jorge Bergoglio?
- Given that even Peter Kwasniewski himself signed a public letter accusing Francis of the delict of heresy, I’d say that the math does it itself!
Returning now to Joy’s thesis…
Peter Kwasniewski wasn’t alone in lauding John Joy’s conclusions. Brother Andre Marie – a religious of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who is likewise very active on social media – also hailed Joy’s article, calling it “superb.”
When challenged to produce a traditional citation – from the Fathers, Saints, Doctors, venerable pre-conciliar theologians, holy popes, or traditional catechisms – that even hints at the idea that the sheep must ever be on guard against dangerous errors dispensed to the entire Church by the Holy Roman Pontiff, the best he could do is point to the entirely unrelated case of Honorius.
Once again, the climate hoax comes to mind.
You see, when it comes to answering theological questions, the witness of Catholic tradition is the equivalent of unmanipulated data in scientific circles, it serves as evidence that a given thesis has merit and may even be proven true. The absence of such evidence indicates that the thesis is destined, at best, to remain unproven. In cases where evidence to the contrary is plentiful, however, the thesis is thus proven to be false.
John Joy’s thesis – and the entire resist-the-pope movement – falls squarely into the latter category. Not because I say so, but because the evidence – that is, the witness of Catholic tradition – says so loudly and clearly.
Over the years, for example, I’ve cited the Catechism of the Council of Trent numerous times:
This Spirit, first imparted to the Apostles, has by the infinite goodness of God always continued in the Church. And just as this one Church cannot err in faith or morals, since it is guided by the Holy Ghost…
NB: There is no disclaimer attached to the above, i.e., the inability of the Church to err in faith or morals is not limited to definitive, irreformable teaching acts alone. This is obvious enough, but let us ask:
How have the popes and saints understood the Church’s inability to err?
This blog (including the previous post) is brimming with testimony from countless witnesses of Catholic tradition, each of which firmly attests to the doctrine known as the “infallibility of the Church,” which is distinct from the definition of papal infallibility given at Vatican I.
This doctrine has always been understood to mean that the Church is prevented from ever teaching error in matters of faith and morals thanks to the divine assistance of the Spirit of truth. It goes hand-in-hand with the doctrine concerning the Church’s indefectibilty, i.e., the teaching that the Apostolic See will remain ever unblemished by any error (cf Vatican I) because, there, “faithlessness cannot gain access” (St. Cyprian).
These doctrines, such as they have always been taught, are utterly incompatible with the resist-the-pope movement. At this, the Oath Against Modernism should come to mind:
I sincerely hold that the doctrine of faith was handed down to us from the Apostles through the orthodox Fathers in exactly the same meaning and always in the same purport.
We will come back to the Oath at the conclusion.
At this, let’s consider just one more witness regarding the matter of infallible safety, aka infallible security as Cardinal Franzelin called it:
These two commands of Christ, which must be fulfilled, the one, namely, to teach, and the other to believe, cannot even be understood, unless the Church proposes a complete and easily understood teaching, and is immune when it thus teaches from all danger of erring …
For the teaching authority of the Church, which in the divine wisdom was constituted on earth in order that revealed doctrines might remain intact for ever, and that they might be brought with ease and security to the knowledge of men, and which is daily exercised through the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops who are in communion with him, has also the office of defining… (cf Pope Pius XI, Mortalium Animos, 8,9)
NB: The “office of defining” is distinct from the non-definitive “teaching authority of the Church [that] is daily exercised through the Roman Pontiff.” This papal teaching “is immune from all danger of erring.” As such, men are given to know the faith “with ease and security.”
In the above, Pope Pius XI has provided a concise and unambiguous verdict, one that resonates in perfect harmony with the doctrine of the Church as handed down throughout the centuries: Infallible safety most certainly does exist in the non-definitive papal magisterium.
In conclusion, I’d like to ask John Joy, Peter Kwasniewski, and other likeminded individuals if they’d be willing to take the Oath Against Modernism today. More specifically:
Do you sincerely hold the indefectibility and infallibility of the Church in exactly the same meaning and always in the same purport as these doctrines have been handed down?