At present, every single self-identified Catholic – be that person a liberal, a progressive, a conservative, a traditionalist, a sedevacantist or any other such label so-given – is in the same boat; although not necessarily the Barque of St. Peter.
Prior to the “New Pentecost” known as Vatican Council II, one could know with relative ease those things that are necessary to believe and to do in order to enter into, and to remain in, communion with the Holy Roman Catholic Church.
Furthermore, given that membership in the Church requires that one externally manifest his or her assent to such things, it was often fairly easy to recognize who is, and who is not, in communion with the Church, which is the social Body of Christ.
As Pope Pius XII explained:
Now since its Founder willed this social body of Christ to be visible, the cooperation of all its members must also be externally manifest through their profession of the same faith and their sharing the same sacred rites, through participation in the same Sacrifice, and the practical observance of the same laws. (Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis – 69)
In other words, if one were simply to observe another who publicly professes a different “faith” – that is, one at odds with that which has been handed down throughout the centuries – or one who shares in different rites or observes different laws, it could be known with certitude that such a person is not in communion with the Catholic Church.
And how was it, prior to the Council, that one could know that which is authentic and that which is different?
Our Lord made it easy: Simply by accepting with docility the teachings imparted by one’s sacred pastors; men to whom Our Blessed Lord grants supernatural gifts for just such a purpose – this being true above all with respect to the person of the pope.
It is He [Our Lord] who imparts the light of faith to believers; it is He who enriches pastors and teachers and above all His Vicar on earth with the supernatural gifts of knowledge, understanding and wisdom, so that they may loyally preserve the treasury of faith, defend it vigorously, and explain it and confirm it with reverence and devotion (ibid., Pope Pius XII, Art. 50).
You see, simply by remaining united to the Roman Pontiff – accepting as a child from a loving father his explanations of the faith – one could have complete and utter confidence that he was in communion with the Church.
In this way, by unity with the Roman Pontiff in communion and in profession of the same faith, the Church of Christ becomes one flock under one supreme shepherd. (Vatican Council I, Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 3, Art. 3).
And why is it so important to remain in communion with the Church in the profession of the same faith? In a word, salvation.
So the fathers of the Fourth Council of Constantinople, following the footsteps of their predecessors, published this solemn profession of faith:
The first condition of salvation is to maintain the rule of the true faith. And since that saying of Our Lord Jesus Christ, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, cannot fail of its effect, the words spoken are confirmed by their consequences. For in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been preserved unblemished, and sacred doctrine been held in honor. Since it is our earnest desire to be in no way separated from this faith and doctrine, we hope that we may deserve to remain in that one communion which the Apostolic See preaches, for in it is the whole and true strength of the Christian religion. (Vatican Council I, Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 4, Art. 2, thus reaffirming the teaching set forth by the Fourth Council of Constantinople).
– Communion with the Church is necessary for salvation.
– Remaining in communion with the Church requires one to profess the same faith that has been handed down, as well as to share in the same sacred rites, to participate in the same Sacrifice, and to observe all the same laws.
– This can be done only by remaining in communion with the Roman Pontiff and that which the Apostolic See under his rule preaches.
– To this end, Our Lord endows the Roman Pontiff above all others with supernatural gifts that allow him to disseminate and safeguard sacred doctrine and lead His sheep on the way of salvation.
Get that? The Roman Pontiff, the pope, is the indispensable key to the salvation of souls; indispensable even as the Lord Himself is indispensable. This being so, the Church has consistently taught that Christ and His Vicar on earth are not two but one Head of the Mystical Body of Christ.
That Christ and His Vicar constitute one only Head is the solemn teaching of Our predecessor of immortal memory Boniface VIII in the Apostolic Letter Unam Sanctam; and his successors have never ceased to repeat the same. (Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis – 40)
Therefore, of the one and only Church there is one body and one head, not two heads like a monster; that is, Christ and the Vicar of Christ, Peter and the successor of Peter, since the Lord speaking to Peter Himself said: ‘Feed my sheep‘ [Jn 21:17], meaning, my sheep in general, not these, nor those in particular, whence we understand that He entrusted all to him (Pope Boniface VIII, Unam Sanctam).
Now, let’s fast forward to today.
In spite of so many disagreements among self-identified Catholics, one of the things all of us have in common is that we have been forced to sift through the plethora of teachings that have come to us from the likes of John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis to determine what is, and what is not, the “same faith” to which we must adhere in order to remain in communion with the Church.
Under Bergoglio, this phenomenon has become more obvious than ever.
– The progressive / liberal, for example, will inevitably decide to embrace the idea that cohabitating couples have true marriages, that God wills that we sometimes persist in adultery, and that it’s simply not possible at times to abide by the Divine Law, etc., even as they reject the notion (offered recently by Bergoglio) that abortion is not “licit” even in cases of rape.
– The conservative will applaud the latter, but most likely reject the former teachings as either lacking in clarity, or so obviously incorrect, that one is well advised to ignore them in favor of other, more orthodox, teachings.
– The traditionalist will conclude that Bergoglio didn’t go far enough in his comments on abortion, while insisting that his teachings on marriage constitute heresy and therefore must not only be ignored, but also condemned outright as such.
– The sedevacantist will declare that these heresies are so antithetical to the Papacy that the purveyor of such cannot possibly be the pope.
I am painting with broad strokes here as there is, in reality, a degree of cross-over among these persons so-labeled. The point, however, is presumably well taken. And while, as stated, Bergoglio has made this common problem most apparent, the same existed under John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI as well.
For some sixty years now, all self-identified Catholics to a person have been in the unfortunate position of having to evaluate that which comes to us from the post-conciliar claimants to the Chair of St. Peter, so as to decide for themselves what to accept, and what to reject, and even what to condemn.
Clearly, this is not the Lord’s will, and the heart of the problem lies in the men who have been esteemed by most of the world as the post-conciliar Roman Pontiffs.
Yes, the Second Vatican Council is very much the locus of the current crisis, but let us not forget that there is no such thing as a general council (or one claiming to be) without the approbation of the pope (or, as the case may be, a man claiming to be).
The fact that we now find ourselves is this terrible position is clearly due, therefore, to a magnificent breakdown in the Office of Peter, that which was established by Christ to ensure that all could know and understand the treasury of faith.
As the First Vatican Council stated:
In order, then, that the episcopal office should be one and undivided and that, by the union of the clergy, the whole multitude of believers should be held together in the unity of faith and communion, he set blessed Peter over the rest of the apostles and instituted in him the permanent principle of both unities and their visible foundation (First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, Art. 4).
NB: The Roman Pontiff is the principle and visible foundation of the unity of faith!
At this, I cannot help but come back to what was solemnly taught by the Fourth Council of Constantinople and reaffirmed at Vatican Council I:
The first condition of salvation is to maintain the rule of the true faith. And since that saying of Our Lord Jesus Christ, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, cannot fail of its effect, the words spoken are confirmed by their consequences. For in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been preserved unblemished, and sacred doctrine been held in honor.[Emphasis added]
NB: The Lord’s pledge to build His Church on Peter, the Supreme teacher who is supernaturally strengthened to preserve the Catholic religion and to honor, defend, and explain the sacred doctrine unblemished cannot fail of its effect.
In other words, the unblemished sacred doctrine that the Apostolic See teaches – in the person of the Roman Pontiff – is that upon which the Lord is building His Church without fail.
This means that it is not enough to say that the Lord wishes to build His Church on that which comes to us from the Roman Pontiff, if only that man behave as he should; rather, we must insist that Our Lord never fails to build His Church on Peter, and it is on Peter that she stands as he is the foundation of unity of faith.
But where in our day, pray tell, is this Peter upon whom Our Lord is building His Church; the foundation of faith upon which she stands?
Apart from the liberals who are desperately seeking to confirm their rejection of perennial truths, most of us can agree that Our Lord is not building His Church on Jorge Bergoglio and his near endless stream of heresies. On the contrary, we recognize these things as attacks against the Church; i.e., that which opposes the Lord’s promise to build her – a pledge, it is worth repeating, that cannot fail of its effect.
This being so, one can hardly be surprised to note that it has never been necessary for the faithful to sift through numerous and varied doctrines as coming from an authentic occupant of the Chair of Peter in order to weigh their merits; so as to decide for themselves whether to accept or to reject them. Never.
Sure, Honorius I will be cited by some as proof that a pope can teach heresy, but the comparison is flimsy on many counts; not the least of which is that his offense was limited to private letters that only came to light after he had died.
John XXII and his erroneous opinion concerning the beatific vision will also likely be cited as well, but this example also fails inasmuch as the true doctrine was as yet undefined by the Church, and furthermore, this pope always maintained that he was simply opining and vowed to remain open to correction by more learned theologians.
One may be reminded of the words of St. Thomas Aquinas:
“There being an imminent danger for the Faith, prelates must be questioned, even publicly, by their subjects. Thus, St. Paul, who was a subject of St. Peter, questioned him publicly on account of an imminent danger of scandal in a matter of Faith. And, as the Glossa of St. Augustine puts it (Ad Galatas 2.14), ‘St. Peter himself gave the example to those who govern so that if sometimes they stray from the right way, they will not reject a correction as unworthy even if it comes from their subjects.’” (Summa Theologiae, IIa IIae, Q. 33, A. 4)
Does this Peter-like acceptance of correction in any way call to mind the image of Jorge Bergoglio, aka Francis? Of course not.
So, what are we to do?
The safest course is to do one’s level best to ignore everything that has come from the “Apostolic See” and the men who have laid claim to the papacy both during and after the Second Vatican Council.
Indeed, I would go so far as to say that it is upon Peter as represented by the pre-conciliar popes alone that Our Lord is presently building His Church, and it is upon them alone that she presently stands.
To claim otherwise is to insist that Our Lord was/is building His Church, and what’s more she stands, on the likes of John XXIII who was seduced by Communism, on Paul VI who gave us the Novus Ordo, on John Paul II who presented the Assisi abominations as the way to world peace, on Benedict XVI who insisted upon man’s right to choose and to change his religion (to provide just limited listing of their misdeeds), and on Francis who needs no further introduction.
We know better. How? To paraphrase the Fourth Council of Constantinople and the First Vatican Council, it is confirmed by the consequences; namely, the utter deterioration of the Church, not just with regard to her structures and mere demographics, but with regard to the utter lack of unity of faith that exists in our day – even among sincere self-identified Catholics.
Is it possible that in behaving as if the calendar still reads 1958 that one may overlook something arguably useful? Perhaps, but the more important point is that if one but cling for dear life exclusively to the pre-conciliar Magisterium, one can be perfectly confident that there will be no risk of exposure to grave error. Otherwise, look out!
Even in doing this, however, we must make the decision for ourselves; as if we are our own rule of faith, presently without “Peter” to show us the way.
So, in answer to the question posed in the title to this post, the unfortunate truth is that even the sincerest among us have become, in some real sense, his or her own individual arbiter of what constitutes the “same faith” that is necessary for salvation.
In other words, we have in some significant measure become just like the Protestants, and the reason is plain – the “Peter” willed by Christ, the foundation of unity of faith, is nowhere to be found.
O’ Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee!