Catholicism


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The Ecumenical Councils of Trent and Vatican I and the Creed of Pius IV all require us to:

…accept the Holy Scripture according to that sense which holy mother the Church hath held, and doth hold, and to whom it belongeth to judge the true sense and interpretations of the Scriptures [and] never take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.

If is often said that the Church has, in fact, only very rarely defined the precise meaning of a biblical passage. Whether or not that is true one clear instance of such a definition is the Bull Unam Sanctam which has very precise teaching concerning Luke 22:35-38 and John 18:11. In ordering the disciples to buy a sword if they had not one already, and in telling them that two swords are enough, and in ordering Peter to sheath his sword Our Lord laid out the precise nature of the jurisdiction of the sacramental hierarchy and  the Supreme Pontiff over the temporal power.

Both the temporal and the spiritual power are intrinsic to the Church. The spiritual sword is to be exercised for the specific ends for which the Church was instituted and by the members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. In contrast, the temporal sword must be exercised by members of the Church but cannot be wielded by the members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy (although they may confiscate it if it is misused and assign it to another) because it is not a means by which the specific ends of the Church may be advanced.

What rarely seems to attract much notice is the reason Our Lord gave for this arrangement:

And he said to them: When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, did you want anything? But they said: Nothing. Then said he unto them: But now he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise a scrip; and he that hath not, let him sell his coat, and buy a sword. For I say to you, that this that is written must yet be fulfilled in me: And with the wicked was he reckoned. For the things concerning me have an end. But they said: Lord, behold here are two swords. And he said to them, It is enough.

The apostles are told to obtain a sword because Christ will be treated as a criminal. As Our Lord also said at the Last Supper “the servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you: if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also.” The opposition between the Church and the world is such that the Apostles (and their successors) need to have the protection of force in order to function. Yet, a short time later when Peter uses his sword to try to defend the Lord he is rebuked. “Put up thy sword into thy scabbard”. The Apostles have two swords but they are permitted to wield only one. The word of God is in the power of the clergy the state is to be in the power of the laity.

How does this fit with the prohibition on coercive conversion? The temporal sword of Christendom is essentially defensive. It is not ‘for’ the Church as Boniface VIII insists, it is wielded ‘by’ the Church (the lay faithful). The essential purposes of the Church cannot be advanced by violence but the non-ordained members of the Church can use the temporal sword to defend the Church from external persecution. Once the state is no longer in the hands of the Church this is not possible. So long as the state is non-Christian the Church’s business lies in buying the sword (bringing the temporal order by consent into the possession of the Church). Once it is purchased the sword may be drawn – but only by the laity – to stave off temporal impediments to the operation of the spiritual sword. We do not live by the sword. The life of Christendom is established and maintained by the peaceful spreading of the Gospel. However, once that life has reached the highest temporal level of social organisation the temporal sword can and should be drawn in its defence.

As St Cyril of Alexandria teaches:

He says sell his cloak, and buy a sword: for henceforth the question with all those who continue in the land will not be whether they possess anything or not, but whether they can exist and preserve their lives. For war shall befall them with such unendurable impetuosity, that nothing shall be able to stand against it.

At the beginning of the Song of Roland Charlemagne (in deference to his council) seeks to negotiate a temporal peace with Islam. He seeks to keep his cloak instead of buying a sword. He forgets the truth that he remembers later in the midst of battle with the Emir of Babylon: “Never to Paynims may I show love or peace.” The Lord tells us “the things concerning me have an end” there is no new revelation to dispense us from the unremitting opposition of the world. As Leo XIII teaches “Christians are born for combat”. The faithful must sell their cloaks and buy a sword because the state cannot simply be left in the hands of the pagans if the Church is to survive. This is why the Song ends with a weary Emperor roused from his bed by St Gabriel to carry on the war. He sought not first the Kingdom of God and His justice and so earthly peace is taken from him until he learns his lesson.

st-michael-sword-scales

In the case of Thomas Bonham v College of Physicians decided in 1610 by the Court of Common PleasSir Edward Coke held that “in many cases, the common law will controul Acts of Parliament, and sometimes adjudge them to be utterly void: for when an Act of Parliament is against common right and reason, or repugnant, or impossible to be performed, the common law will controul it, and adjudge such Act to be void”. The case and the decision are controversial seeming, as they do, to contradict the doctrine of the Supremacy of Parliament in favour of the supremacy of Common Law. It has been celebrated in the United States as the possible origin of certain elements of US constitutional law. The Common Law in question in Dr Bonham’s case would be the aboriginal Common Law  from which the English Common Law derives its legitimacy the lex naturalis: the light of the Divine Countenance sealed upon human nature itselfIt is indeed the case that laws, both civil and ecclesiastical, contrary to the Natural Law are null and void (although whether the Court of Common Pleas is the competent tribunal to determine the existence of such a conflict is another matter).

How does this relate to the danger of schism in the Church at the present time? Dr Bonham’s case concerned an instance in which a (juridical) person, in this case the College of Physicians, had acted as judge in its own cause. Despite having the authority of an Act of Parliament to do so Sir Edward Coke determined that to act as judge in one’s own cause is so repugnant to reason and natural law that the statutory provisions could not stand.

Cardinal Burke has stated that, if the four Cardinals who have placed the Dubia before Pope Francis concerning Amoris Laetitia and the perennial teaching of the Church continue to receive no reply, he will be compelled to proceed to a “formal act of correction of [the Roman Pontiff in] a serious error”. According to the tradition of the Church if the Roman Pontiff is admonished twice by his proper counsellors for teaching heresy he is separated from the body of the Church and deposed. This is in accordance with the doctrine of St Paul in Titus 3:10 ‘A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, avoid’. The Church cannot avoid the Roman Pontiff so if she were compelled to do so in virtue of Divine Law when such a person were admonished twice he would ipso facto cease to be the Roman Pontiff at the second admonition. Therefore, if a Cardinal were to issue a formal act of correction a process would have begun against Jorge Mario Bergoglio and until the Sacred College formally voted once (if negatively) or twice (if positively) concerning that admonition they would be constituted as the judges in that process.

The Dean of the Roman Rota, Archbishop Pio Vito Pinto, has warned that Pope Francis could strip the four Cardinals of their membership of the Sacred College. There are precedents for such a degradation. However, from the moment a formal act of correction were issued by Cardinal Burke and/or any of his brother Cardinals such a degradation would be null and void. As it is contrary to natural law for anyone to be judge in their own cause, and as ecclesiastical positive law (a fortiori executive edict) cannot validly transgress natural law, it would seem the Pope cannot remove or institute Cardinals from the moment such a process had begun until it is terminated in acquittal, censure or (after a second admonition) deposition. This could, of course, create a serious problem at the next conclave if the Pope seeks to remove or, as even more likely, add members of the Sacred College during such a period.

This is because the potential is created (were the Pope to die before the hypothetical process were terminated) for the appearance of two formally distinct sets of putative Papal electors: the set of those who recognise only the Cardinals appointed prior to the formal act of correction and the set of those those who recognise those created subsequently. If the first group  (or even some of the first group) refused to sit in conclave with ‘Cardinals’ created after the formal act of correction these Cardinals (a sub-set of the first group) would have the right to sit themselves as the only true conclave.

In the midst of the imminent apostasy of the post-conciliar period a hidden schism has developed beneath the external unity of the Church. The first stage in curing any disease is recognising its existence. Perhaps this formal act of correction cannot come soon enough.

“Taking conciliar custom into consideration and also the pastoral purpose of the present Council, the sacred Council defines as binding on the Church only those things in matters of faith and morals which it shall openly declare to be binding.”

Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Declaration of the Theological Commission, March 6, 1964

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“The second problem concerns the interrelation of the principles of what is termed art and the standards of morality. Since increasing disputes on this subject frequently arise from false ethical and aesthetical principles, the council decrees that the absolute primacy of an objective moral law must be held by all.

Inter mirifica 6

“This holy synod, following in the footsteps of the first Vatican council, along with that council teaches and declares that Jesus Christ, the eternal shepherd, built his holy church by sending apostles just as he himself had been sent by the Father; it was his will that their successors, namely the bishops, should be shepherds in his church right to the end of the world. So that the episcopate itself, however, should be one and undivided, he placed blessed Peter over the rest of the apostles, and in him he instituted a perpetual and visible principle and foundation for the unity of faith and communion. This doctrine of the institution, the perpetuity, the force and the nature of the sacred primacy of the Roman pontiff and of his infallible magisterium, the synod once more proposes to be firmly believed by all the faithful.

 Lumen gentium 18

The Sacred Council, therefore, not only accords to this ecclesiastical and spiritual heritage the high regard which is its due and rightful praise, but also unhesitatingly looks on it as the heritage of the universal Church. For this reason it solemnly declares that the Churches of the East, as much as those of the West, have a full right and are in duty bound to rule themselves, each in accordance with its own established disciplines, since all these are praiseworthy by reason of their venerable antiquity, more harmonious with the character of their faithful and more suited to the promotion of the good of souls.

– Orientalium Ecclesiarum 5

Already from the earliest times the Eastern Churches followed their own forms of ecclesiastical law and custom, which were sanctioned by the approval of the Fathers of the Church, of synods, and even of ecumenical councils. Far from being an obstacle to the Church’s unity, a certain diversity of customs and observances only adds to her splendor, and is of great help in carrying out her mission, as has already been stated. To remove, then, all shadow of doubt, this holy Council solemnly declares that the Churches of the East, while remembering the necessary unity of the whole Church, have the power to govern themselves according to the disciplines proper to them, since these are better suited to the character of their faithful, and more for the good of their souls.

– Unitatis Redintegratio 16

Moreover Christ, as the Church has always held and holds, went willingly and with immense love to his passion and death because of the sins of all people so that all may obtain salvation.  

Nostra aetate 4

“The four gospels originate from the apostles, as the church has always and everywhere held and still holds.”

Dei verbum 18

Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day He was taken up into heaven

– Dei Verbum 19

First, the council professes its belief that God Himself has made known to mankind the way in which men are to serve Him, and thus be saved in Christ and come to blessedness. We believe that this one true religion subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus committed the duty of spreading it abroad among all men. Thus He spoke to the Apostles: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have enjoined upon you” (Matt. 28: 19-20). On their part, all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it.

This Vatican Council likewise professes its belief that it is upon the human conscience that these obligations fall and exert their binding force. The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power.

Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.

Over and above all this, the council intends to develop the doctrine of recent popes on the inviolable rights of the human person and the constitutional order of society.

This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.

– Dignitatis Humane 1-2

With all this in mind, this holy synod adopts the condemnations of total war which have already been uttered by recent popes, and declares: Every operation of war which aims indiscriminately at the destruction of whole cities, or of widespread areas with their inhabitants, is a crime against God and humanity itself which is to be firmly and unhesitatingly condemned.

Gaudium et spes 80

Complied with help from Gaudium

The Church, spotless spouse of Christ, generates, nurtures and educates souls in the divine life of grace, with her Sacraments and her doctrine. With good reason then does St. Augustine maintain: “He has not God for father who refuses to have the Church as mother.”  [St Augustine] Hence it is that in this proper object of her mission, that is, “in faith and morals, God Himself has made the Church sharer in the divine magisterium and, by a special privilege, granted her immunity from error; hence she is the mistress of men, supreme and absolutely sure, and she has inherent in herself an inviolable right to freedom in teaching.”[Leo XIII] By necessary consequence the Church is independent of any sort of earthly power as well in the origin as in the exercise of her mission as educator, not merely in regard to her proper end and object, but also in regard to the means necessary and suitable to attain that end. Hence with regard to every other kind of human learning and instruction, which is the common patrimony of individuals and society, the Church has an independent right to make use of it, and above all to decide what may help or harm Christian education. And this must be so, because the Church as a perfect society has an independent right to the means conducive to its end, and because every form of instruction, no less than every human action, has a necessary connection with man’s last end, and therefore cannot be withdrawn from the dictates of the divine law, of which the Church is guardian, interpreter and infallible mistress.

– Pius XI, Divini Illius Magistri (1929)

Truly, it is hardly possible to describe how great are the evils that flow from divorce. Matrimonial contracts are by it made variable; mutual kindness is weakened; deplorable inducements to unfaithfulness are supplied; harm is done to the education and training of children; occasion is afforded for the breaking up of homes; the seeds of dissension are sown among families; the dignity of womanhood is lessened and brought low, and women run the risk of being deserted after having ministered to the pleasures of men. Since, then, nothing has such power to lay waste families and destroy the mainstay of kingdoms as the corruption of morals, it is easily seen that divorces are in the highest degree hostile to the prosperity of families and States, springing as they do from the depraved morals of the people, and, as experience shows us, opening out a way to every kind of evil-doing in public and in private life.

Further still, if the matter be duly pondered, we shall clearly see these evils to be the more especially dangerous, because, divorce once being tolerated, there will be no restraint powerful enough to keep it within the bounds marked out or presurmised. Great indeed is the force of example, and even greater still the might of passion. With such incitements it must needs follow that the eagerness for divorce, daily spreading by devious ways, will seize upon the minds of many like a virulent contagious disease, or like a flood of water bursting through every barrier.

– Leo XIII, Arcanum (1880)

Vatican I

Tragedy is sometimes defined as the process by which a truly great man is brought to ruin by a sequence of events that commences with an error rather than a sin. St Pius X was a truly great pope and we owe him much. The calamities which encompass the Church at this time result from a heresy, the synthesis of all heresies, which he exhaustively defined and the remedy for which he prescribed in his great anti-modernist documents PascendiLamentabili sane, Sacrorum antistitum, Doctoris angelici and Postquam sanctissimus. Nevertheless, as time passes two acts of St Pius X’s pontificate stand out as serious prudential errors: the revised breviary and the codification of canon law. It is not that either of these documents is objectionable in itself but that the use of Papal authority entailed by their creation established a disastrous precedent for later popes. When St Pius V canonised the curial form of the Roman Rite he simply took one of the existing forms of the liturgy and permitted it to be celebrated by all priests of the Roman Rite. He did not create a ‘new rite’ (nor could he as such an idea had been anathematised by the Council of Trent), nor did he impede the celebration of any other legitimate usage of the Roman Rite of more than two hundred years standing. Likewise, the various collections of canon law produced more or less officially by the Popes up until the twentieth century were collections of the canons already issued by popes and councils over the preceding centuries. St Pius X proposed to repeal the preceding canon law and  replace it with a single integrated code. He significantly altered the immemorial breviary of the Roman Rite. While (unlike the Missal of Paul VI) it does not appear that St Pius X’s reforms were ultra vires, time would seem to have told that they were deeply imprudent.

There is nothing which the episcopate can do that the Pope may not do alone. The Pope has ordinary universal jurisdiction over the entire Church which he may always exercise unimpaired. The highest doctrinal judgments of the Supreme Pontiff are irreformable of themselves and not from the consent of the Church. Yet, as bishop Gasser remarked in the official relatio that preceded the vote of Vatican I on Pastor Aeternus (which defined these truths), “the most solemn judgment of the Church in matters of faith and morals is and always will be the judgment of an ecumenical council, in which the Pope passes judgment together with the bishops of the Catholic world who meet and judge together with him.” The definitions of ecumenical councils are not more definitive than those of the Popes but, all other things being equal, it is more fitting that Peter judge together with his brethren. This logic applies no less to the legislative than to the doctrinal sphere. The Pope’s authority must be ordinary else there would be no judge to determine if he had acted without warrant and the visibility of the Church would be threatened. Nevertheless, in practice, he should voluntarily exercise this universal authority over his brother bishops only extraordinarily.

This power of the Supreme Pontiff by no means detracts from that ordinary and immediate power of episcopal jurisdiction, by which bishops, who have succeeded to the place of the apostles by appointment of the Holy Spirit, tend and govern individually the particular flocks which have been assigned to them. On the contrary, this power of theirs is asserted, supported and defended by the Supreme and Universal Pastor; for St. Gregory the Great says: “My honour is the honour of the whole Church. My honour is the steadfast strength of my brethren. Then do I receive true honour, when it is denied to none of those to whom honour is due.”

Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus

Can it be said that the Pope is really exercising his power in this way when the overwhelming majority of the bishops in the world are appointed directly by the Pope, when canon law purports to compel them to resign at seventy-five, when the legislative decrees of the Councils have been set aside, when the liturgical traditions of millennia in the Roman (and now the Eastern) Rites are overthrown? And what would have resulted if the decrees of Councils had been observed? There would be no Novus Ordo for the 1970 Missal, in addition to breaching the dogmatic prohibition of Trent on ‘new rites’, is clearly nothing like the modest revision requested by Vatican II. There would be no Jesuits because Lateran IV expressly forbade the creation of new religious orders:

Lest too great a variety of religious orders leads to grave confusion in God’s church, we strictly forbid anyone henceforth to found a new religious order. Whoever wants to become a religious should enter one of the already approved orders. Likewise, whoever wishes to found a new religious house should take the rule and institutes from already approved religious orders. We forbid, moreover, anyone to attempt to have a place as a monk in more than one monastery or an abbot to preside over more than one monastery.

Lateran IV, Canon 13

Clerical careerism would cease with episcopacy, and the Cardinals would genuinely be the suffragans, parish priests and deacons of the Roman Church (to whom the promises of indefectibility were made not to a motley collection of international career prelates),  for translations from one diocese to another would be forbidden in accordance with the decrees of the First Council of Nicaea:

On account of the great disturbance and the factions which are caused, it is decreed that the custom, if it is found to exist in some parts contrary to the canon, shall be totally suppressed, so that neither bishops nor presbyters nor deacons shall transfer from city to city. If after this decision of this holy and great synod anyone shall attempt such a thing, or shall lend himself to such a proceeding, the arrangement shall be totally annulled, and he shall be restored to the church of which he was ordained bishop or presbyter or deacon.

NIcaea I, Canon 15

Would not a Church free of Jesuits, where the bishop knew that from the day of his consecration he had no one to please (or offend) but God, where the liturgies left to us by the fathers were preserved inviolate to the exclusion of all novelty, where well governed dioceses flourished over generations and poorly governed ones had no power of contagion, be a happier, holier and more Christ-like place than the sorry spectacle of imminent apostasy that affronts us today?

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