Infallibility, Councils, and Levels of Church Authority

Infallibility, Councils, and Levels of Church Authority July 31, 2018

Explanation of the Subtleties of Church Teaching and Debate with Several Radical Catholic Reactionaries

[words of several radical Catholic reactionary opponents will be in blue]

I do not accept the infallibility of Vatican II. I do not because not even the Pope who promulgated it, Paul VI, denied its infallibility. He EXPLICITLY stated that the Council did not invoke the extraordinary magisterium and consequently did not make any infallible definitions:

The magisterium of the Church did not wish to pronounce itself under the form of EXTRAORDINARY DOGMATIC PRONOUNCEMENTS. ( [Emphasis Mine] –Pope Paul VI, discourse closing Vatican II, December 7, 1965)

There are those who ask what authority, what theological qualification, the Council intended to give to its teachings, knowing that it AVOIDED ISSUING SOLEMN DOGMATIC DEFINITIONS backed by the Church’s infallible teaching authority. The answer is known by those who remember the conciliar declaration of March 6, 1964, repeated on November 16, 1964. In view of the pastoral nature of the Council, it AVOIDED PROCLAIMING IN AN EXTRAORDINARY MANNER ANY DOGMATA CARRYING THE MARK OF INFALLIBILITY. ( [Emphasis mine] –Pope Paul VI, General Audience of January 12, 1966)

Therefore I think I am standing on very solid ground when I say that Vatican II in and of itself is not infallible.

Whether it is infallible or not (we shall get into that at great length below) you are required as a Catholic to submit to its teachings, and even to give the obedience of interior (as well as exterior/public) assent. The denial of this leads to Luther’s arbitrary pick-and-choose position against the Church. See CCC #891.


Ludwig Ott discussed conciliar infallibility and the authority of General Councils:


The Council of Trent also teaches that the Bishops are the successors of the Apostles (D 960); and so does the Vatican Council [ I ] (D 1828). As successors of the Apostles they are the pastors and teachers of the faithful (D 1821). As official teachers of the faith, they are endowed with the active infallibility assured to the incumbents of the Church teaching office.

Two forms of the activity of the teaching office of the whole Episcopate are distinguished – an extraordinary form and an ordinary one.

a) The Bishops exercise their infallible teaching power in extraordinary manner at a general or ecumenical council. It is in the decisions of the General Councils that the teaching activity of the whole teaching body instituted by Christ is most decisively exercised.

It has been the constant teaching of the Church from the earliest times that the resolutions of the General Councils are infallible. St Athanasius says of the Decree on faith of the Nicene Council: ‘The words of the Lord which were spoken by the General Council of Nicaea, remain in eternity’ (Ep. ad Afros 2). St. Gregory the Great recognises and honours the first four General Councils as much as the Four Gospels; he makes the fifth equal to them (Ep. I 25) . . .

b) The Bishops exercise their infallible teaching power in an ordinary manner when they, in their dioceses, in moral unity with the Pope, unanimously promulgate the same teachings on faith and morals. The Vatican Council [ I ] expressly declared that also the truths of Revelation proposed as such by the ordinary and general teaching office of the Church are to be firmly held with ‘divine and catholic faith’ (D 1792) . . . (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, ed. James Canon Bastible, tr. Patrick Lynch, Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, 1974; orig. 1952 in German, pp. 299-300)


Catholics are called to obedience, but they are not called to a blind obedience.

How is this “blind” when the Church and popes have spoken so plainly on it, and long before Vatican II itself? You have substituted what you think is a “blind obedience” for a “blind faith” in the erroneous reactionary assumption that one can pick and choose what they like from an Ecumenical Council. That is precisely how Luther began his rebellion. At that point, you have adopted the Protestant principle of authority.

It’s the same old story; I’ve heard this argument over and over. The bottom line is, if you refuse to give assent to Councils, you are like Luther, on the road out of the Church. If you deny that the Church is indefectible, then you are no better than a modernist in my book. The Catholic must have faith that God can preserve His Church and the Sacred Deposit of Faith and Tradition in such instances. Otherwise, obedience becomes a meaningless concept and Catholic Apostolic authority reduces to Protestant pseudo-authority.

It is commonly asserted by reactionaries that the documents of Vatican II are “ambiguous and full of loopholes,” or flat-out contrary to received Sacred Tradition. But Councils and Tradition have always been disputed throughout Church history.The Orthodox, for example, believe that the Fathers denied papal supremacy, and the filioque, and the indissolubility of a consummated marriage.

The Protestants vainly seek to enlist Fathers as advocates of sola Scriptura, or Augustine for a supposedly symbolic Eucharist. Many of the Christological heresies are based on single words, or even letters in some instances. So liberals and reactionaries alike distort the authentic meaning of the Vatican II documents, or arbitrarily pick and choose from them. This is nothing new.

Your overreaction against Luther has almost driven you to impose on me as an article of faith that a Pope and Council can’t waffle, blither, or talk vague (yet mostly pious) claptrap.

What in Trent is “vague” and claptrap?

You have tried to impose on me [the notion] that a Pope and Council can’t sign a modernist document.

I don’t believe a Council (in agreement with the pope) can produce a “modernist document,” no. A pope might (sub-infallibly), but I don’t believe this pope has. If I am gullible or ignorant, then I would rather err in this direction, than in yours, where you feel sufficiently authoritative to disavow the decrees of an Ecumenical Council. Do you think God will condemn me for having too much faith in His Church and His protection of it from error and defection into heresy?

Dave, you know very well that we have no quarrel over the content of this tradition, but only over whether or not Vatican II has compromised it.

Indefectibility and the authority of Ecumenical Councils is part of the Apostolic Tradition, which you overthrow if you persist in this disobedience.

My friend wrote you a letter, in which you accused him of harboring Lutheran tendencies because he questioned the allegedly “dogmatic” nature of the the Second Vatican Council . . . What are the limits or boundaries between the ordinary magisterium and papal or episcopal teaching which is merely human and fallible?

In this instance, we are talking about an Ecumenical Council. If not every jot and tittle of it is infallible in the extraordinary sense, then certainly it is nevertheless entirely binding on the Catholic faithful. If you doubt that, then please tell me which portions of the Council of Trent you reject, on the basis of your private judgment. Or how about Nicaea or Chalcedon or Vatican I.

If the ordinary magisterium is purely “horizontal” (a very innovative phrase!),

The words Trinity and Incarnation and homoousios were very innovative also. They didn’t appear in the Bible. I guess the “conservative Catholics” or “modernists” in the early centuries smuggled those innovative words/concepts into the deposit of faith . . .

Words like Trinity and homoousion were introduced to preserve the old acceptation of doctrines from being distorted by false teachings. A distinction of horizontal and vertical teaching (i.e. a temporal cutting off the Pope and bishops from the necessity of abiding by Tradition) is of another kind altogether.

Of course it doesn’t mean that at all – this is your shameless caricature of the teaching. Authentic collegiality — in line with the  pope and Tradition, is no more in essence than the disciples, with Peter as their earthly leader, and Jesus as their divine leader. You act as if this is a startling innovation, unheard-of before. Nothing could be further from the truth. It has been more precisely explicated as of late, but so what?

i.e. a function of collegiality and papal approbation alone, what does this do to the Council of Trent’s assertion that all irreformable teaching (that is, magisterial teaching) is based upon Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition?

All binding Catholic teachings can indeed be found materially in Scripture, either implicitly or explicitly.

The Council Fathers of Trent submitted to the authority of these sources of revelation, were they acting (as I believe they were) infallibly in doing so?

Yes; reactionaries are the ones who (selectively) refuse to obey Ecumenical Councils, not I.

Or can the unbroken chain of Tradition be abrogated?

It cannot; this is indefectibility.

I now proceed to document the perfect orthodoxy of my opinions, and to show that the reactionary position is false. I am thinking in particular of the selective, “pick and choose” acceptance of Vatican II, and the refusal to accept Pope John Paul’s pronouncements in Ecclesia Dei regarding schism, the SSPX, and Abp. Lefebvre’s disobedience, schismatic act, and consequent excommunication.

Note in the following excerpts that even if a clear teaching of the Church is not infallible, it is still binding on the faithful, it requires even interior assent, and may not be disagreed with publicly. Reactionaries violate this Church teaching left and right. I have found nothing in these sources which dissuades me from my position in the least. Note that I cite the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, Ludwig Ott, Pope Pius XII, etc., in addition to Fr. William Most. All of this precedes Vatican II; thus reactionaries are out of line with the pre-conciliar teaching, as well as the conciliar teaching (itself completely consistent with prior Tradition).


[see article from Fr. William G. Most]

First level:

A) Solemn definition. LG 25: No special formula of words is required in order to define. Wording should be something solemn, and should make clear that the teaching is definitive. Councils in the past often used the form: Si quis dixerit. . . anathema sit. That is: If someone shall say. . . . let him be anathema. But sometimes they used the formula for disciplinary matters, so that form alone does not prove. Further, they also could define in the capitula, the chapters. Thus Pius XII, in Divino afflante Spiritu  (EB 538) spoke of such a passage of Vatican I (DS 3006 — saying God is the author of Scripture) as a solemn definition . . .

B) Second level: LG (Lumen Gentium) 25:

Although the individual bishops do not have the prerogative of infallibility, they can yet teach Christ’s doctrine infallibly. This is true even when they are scattered around the world, provided that, while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves, and with the successor of Peter, they concur in one teaching as the one which must be definitively held.

This means: (1) The day to day teaching of the Church throughout the world, when it gives things as definitively part of the faith, (2) If this can be done when scattered, all the more can it be done when assembled in Council. Thus Trent (DS 1520) after “strictly prohibiting anyone from hereafter believing or preaching or teaching differently than what is established and explained in the present decree,” went on to give infallible teaching even in the capitula, outside the canons.

To know whether the Church intends to teach infallibly on this second level, we notice both the language — no set form required – and the intention, which may be seen at times from the nature of the case, at times from the repetition of the doctrine on this second level.

C) Third Level: Pius XII, in Humani generis:

Nor must it be thought that the things contained in Encyclical Letters do not of themselves require assent on the plea that in them the Pontiffs do not exercise the supreme power of their Magisterium. For these things are taught with the ordinary Magisterium, about which it is also true to say, ‘He who hears you, hears me.’ [Lk 10. 16]. . . If the Supreme Pontiffs, in their acta expressly pass judgment on a matter debated until then, it is obvious to all that the matter, according to the mind and will of the same Pontiffs, cannot be considered any longer a question open for discussion among theologians.

We notice: (1) These things are protected by the promise of Christ in Lk 10. 16, and so are infallible, for His promise cannot fail . . . (2) Not everything in Encyclicals, and similar documents, is on this level – this is true only when the Popes expressly pass judgment on a previously debated matter, (3) since the Church scattered throughout the world can make a teaching infallible without defining – as we saw on level 2 -then of course the Pope alone, who can speak for and reflect the faith of the whole Church, can do the same even in an Encyclical, under the conditions enumerated by Pius XII. Really, on any level, all that is required to make a thing infallible is that it be given definitively. When a Pope takes a stand on something debated in theology and publishes it in his Acta, that suffices. The fact that as Pius XII said it is removed from debate alone shows it is meant as definitive.

In this connection, we note that LG 12 says: The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief. This means: If the whole Church, both people and authorities, have ever believed (accepted as revealed) an item, then that cannot be in error, is infallible. Of course this applies to the more basic items, not to very technical matters of theological debate . . .

D) Level 4: LG 25:

Religious submission of mind and of will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff even when he is not defining, in such a way, namely, that the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to according to his manifested mind and will, which is clear either from the nature of the documents, or from the repeated presentation of the same doctrine, or from the manner of speaking.

We note all the qualifications in the underlined part. The key is the intention of the Pope. He may be repeating existing definitive teaching from Ordinary Magisterium level – then it is infallible, as on level 2. He may be giving a decision on a previously debated point – as on level 3, then it falls under the promise of Christ in Lk 10. 16, and so is also infallible. Or it may be a still lesser intention – then we have a case like that envisioned in Canon 752 of the New Code of Canon Law:

Not indeed an assent of faith, but yet a religious submission of mind and will must be given to the teaching which either the Supreme Pontiff, or the College of Bishops [of course, with the Pope] pronounce on faith or on morals when they exercise the authentic Magisterium even if they do not intend to proclaim it by a definitive act.

If they do not mean to make it definitive, then it does not come under the virtue of faith, or the promise of Christ, “He who hears you hears me.” Rather, it is a matter of what the Canon and LG 25 call religious submission of mind and of will. What does this require? Definitely, it forbids public contradiction of the teaching. But it also requires something in the mind, as the wording indicates. This cannot be the absolute assent which faith calls for – for since this teaching is, by definition, not definitive, we gather that it is not absolutely finally certain . . .

If one should make a mistake by following the fourth level of Church teaching, when he comes before the Divine Judge, the Judge will not blame him, rather He will praise him. But if a person errs by breaking with the Church on the plea that he knew better – that will not be easily accepted.

V. THE HIERARCHY OF TRUTHS AND THE TRUTH (Fr. William G. Most; see link)

Sadly, not a few Catholics who consider themselves orthodox, fall into the error of saying that if a thing is not defined, it is free matter: we can take it or leave it as we will. Not so, says the new catechism, echoing Vatican II. in # 891 we read:

The Roman Pontiff chief of the college [of Bishops] actually enjoys this infallibility when, as supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, in charge of confirming his brothers in the faith, proclaims by a definitive act, a point of doctrine on faith or morals.

Before continuing, let us note that word definitive. It means a teaching that is presented as final, with no change possible. But there is nothing in Scripture or Tradition that specifies what wording the Pope must use in order to make a teaching definitive. All that is needed is that in some way, whatever way he may choose, he makes clear that a teaching is definitive. So this section of the new catechism does not add the words ex cathedra. Rather, it refers to LG #25 . . .

All that is required for something to be infallible is that it be taught definitively. But the things described by Pius XII are taught definitively. So what he said was not any new teaching; it was a repetition of what the Church has always done and believed. Some have thought that a Council would have to use the formula: Si quis dixerit… anathema sit , in order to make something infallible. The same persons thought then that only things in the Canons, the Si quis dixerit  sections would be infallible, while the capitula, the bordering sections could not be. But Pius XII in his great Scriptural Encyclical, Divino afflante Spiritu , of 1943, spoke of a statement from Vatican I as a solemn definition, even though not given in a Canon:

In our day Vatican Council I… declared that these same books of Scripture must be considered ‘as sacred and canonical’ by the Church’ not only because they contain revelation without error, but because… they have God as their author. ‘ But when Catholic authors, contrary to this solemn definition of Catholic doctrine… had dared to restrict the truth of Holy Scripture to matters of faith and morals… our predecessor… Leo XIII… rightly and properly refuted those errors. (EB 538. Cf. DS 3006)

What emerges here? Vatican I had taught that God is the Author of Scripture, and that hence all of Scripture is free of error. Pius XII told us that this teaching of Vatican I was a solemn definition, even though not put in the usual wording for such a definition. All that was needed was what we have been speaking of, namely, that it make clear that a teaching is presented as definitive. So any wording that will make that fact clear, that a teaching is definitive, suffices for an infallible teaching. Incidentally, when something is taught repeatedly on the ordinary magisterium level, that very repetition makes clear that it is intended as definitive . . .

But there is still more: The catechism explains in # 889:

To maintain the Church in the purity of the faith transmitted by the Apostles, Christ willed to confer on His Church a participation in His own infallibility, that of Him who is the Truth. By the ‘supernatural sense of the faith’ the People of God, adheres indefectibly to the faith’ under the guidance of the living Magisterium of the Church.

This repeats what Vatican II said in LG #12: The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief. In other words, if the whole Church, people as well as Pastors, has ever accepted something as revealed, that cannot be in error. This is often called passive infallibility. Imagine how many things it covers, e.g., the whole Church from the start has believed there are angels. So those who deny or doubt their existence, deny not just some ordinary teaching, but one that is infallible . . .

We hope Charles Curran is listening. Not only things taught as definitive, but even things not taught that way require even internal assent of the mind. With infallible statements, the assent is based on the virtue of faith; with noninfallible things it is based on the virtue of religion.. . .

[The] Magisterium can tell us so many things. Among others, it can tell us that even though some truths are closer to the center of the hierarchy of truths than others, yet all those presented to us by a divinely protected Magisterium must be believed.

So yes, there is a hierarchy of truths — but it can never lead us to go against the hierarchy of the Church.


If a Council like the Council of Lyons, which had as its specific purpose the reconciliation of the separated Orthodox, was truly inspired by the Holy Ghost (which I affirm it was) why was it possible for it to fail in its mission and fall short of its aim? No lasting reconciliation occurred, and it is now a Council remembered more for its ineffectiveness in accomplishing its stated goals than for any lasting relevance or insight.

The Holy Spirit didn’t guarantee the successfully applied results of a Council’s teaching — that is a function of human free will. What is guaranteed to be free from error are the teachings of the Councils.

The Holy Ghost preserved its Fathers from teaching error, He did not guarantee that their efforts would bear any lasting fruit.

Exactly (I’m answering as I read).

In light of this, is it possible that, even though advocates of the Second Vatican Council like to indulge in triumphalist posturing,

How is it “triumphalist” to merely follow the traditional Catholic belief in the authoritative and binding nature of Ecumenical Councils? To be an “advocate” of an Ecumenical Council is to simply be a Catholic (rather than a Protestant). You act as if this were some sort of amazing thing – a Catholic being obedient to the teaching authority of bishops and the pope, gathered together in Council. Imagine that! Of course, if you seek to prove that Vatican II wasn’t ecumenical, be my guest . . .

the Holy Ghost, while preserving this Council from error, might not necessarily guarantee effectiveness to its methods or its oft-referenced “spirit”?

As to methods, of course not – that isn’t covered by the guarantee of infallibility. The so-called “spirit” is the modernist distortion of authentic Council teaching.

Is there a difference between being preserved from teaching heresy and being preserved from countenancing it?

Yes, but I think it is largely a distinction without a difference, and I deny that the Council “countenanced” error either. The dictionary definition of “countenance” is “to extend approval or toleration; sanction.” Is that what you wish to assert about Vatican II with regard to heresy? That is not merely “omission,” but positive commission of approval, if words mean anything. Perhaps you had in mind Pope Honorius’ failure to act as vigorously as he should have against Monotheletism. That distinction would make much more sense. So what heresy are you saying that Vatican II “countenanced”? Please give me some actual words from the Council . . . That’s the least you can do.

Further, if the laity see the implementation of the Second Vatican Council as a proximate cause of apostasy which threatens the faith of themselves and their children,

All Councils caused upheavals. All Councils caused heretics to willingly remove themselves from the Church or rebel further. The Monophysites left after Chalcedon; the Old Catholics left after Vatican I; Protestant resistance hardened after Trent; the SSPX and kindred reactionary spirits either leave, or are blatantly disobedient and unCatholic in various ways, after Vatican II. I don’t blame the older Councils for the heresies which followed them chronologically; nor do I blame Vatican II for the present crisis. It is the lack of faith and spirit of disobedience and “cafeteria” mentality which characterizes dissidents, heretics, and schismatics on both the left and the right, then and now.

do they have a right to take recourse in a liturgical tradition which has proved to be a powerful bulwark against heterodoxy,

I have no problem with the Tridentine Mass; nor does the pope. I attend Novus Ordo Latin Mass at my church, which is very traditional, and retains all the traditional Catholic aesthetics, rubrics, and reverence.

or are their concerns for the safety of their souls sins which self-righteous men can wantonly label heretical or Lutheran?

The concerns aren’t “heretical.” The false beliefs are (and/or schismatic), to the extent that they go against received Tradition, or entail disobedience to official Church teaching, infallible or not. As for “self-righteous,” it is far more likely that the dissident against legitimate Church authority is guilty of that (though I don’t stoop to accuse you of it), rather than the one simply pointing out the traditional Church teaching.

Would Martin Luther feel more at home in a Novus Ordo German parish which uses the vernacular,

If you so oppose the vernacular, then you must oppose the Latin Vulgate, since that was the common language of Europe at the time (the NT being originally written in Greek, of course), and other translations of the Bible into the vernacular, sanctioned by the Church long since.

communicates divorcees and heretics,

I agree with you here. All priests must be vigilant in that regard.

gives the cup to the laity,

Again, what’s the problem with that? This is the more biblical position, and with much precedent in the early Church.

and permits women on the altar,

Even for readings? The early Church (as seen in the Bible) clearly had women teachers (not priests, of course). Would you not permit St. Therese of Liseux or St. Teresa of Avila or Mother Teresa to read the Bible at Mass? Or to be eucharistic ministers?

A better question regarding St. Theresa of Avila is: would she even have presumed to enter the sanctuary? Did she even want to?

Reading Scripture is not presiding over the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Are new practices introduced by dissidents (not even by the Second Vatican Council) and acquiesced in by the hierarchy, like women reading the Scriptures in the sanctuary, “binding”?

No, but they are permitted.

This is another example of false antiquarianism.

How so? There were certainly women teachers in Scripture.

Or would Luther feel better at the FSSP seminary in Wigratzbad where the Tridentine Mass he yearned to crush is faithfully celebrated?

If the group was schismatic, he would feel right at home. If it sought to undermine or disobey popes and councils, that would hit home with him, too. He would be among kindred spirits, who had forsaken the Catholic rule of faith for his own individualist notion of “authority.”


1. Concept

By dogma in the strict sense is understood a truth immediately (formally) revealed by God which has been proposed by the Teaching Authority of the Church to be believed as such. The Vatican Council [ I ] explains:

Fide divina et catholica ea omnia credenta sunt, quae in verbo Dei scripto vel tradito continentur et ab Ecclesia sive solemni iudicio sive ordinario et universali magisterio tanquam divinitus revelata credenda proponuntur. D 1792. All those things are to be believed by divine and Catholic faith which are contained in the Word of God written or handed down and which are proposed for our belief by the Church either in a solemn definition or in its ordinary and universal authoritative teaching.

Two factors or elements may be distinguished in the concept of dogma:-

a) An immediate Divine Revelation of the particular Dogma (revelatio immediate divina or revelatio formalis), i.e., the Dogma must be immediately revealed by God either explicitly (explicite) or inclusively (implicite), and therefore be contained in the sources of Revelation (Holy writ or Tradition).

b) The Promulgation of the Dogma by the Teaching Authority of the Church (propositio Ecclesiae). This implies, not merely the promulgation of the Truth, but also the obligation on the part of the Faithful of believing the Truth. This Promulgation by the Church may be made either in an extraordinary manner through a solemn decision of faith made by the Pope or a General Council (Iudicium solemne) or through the ordinary and general teaching power of the Church (Magisterium ordinarium et universale). The latter may be found easily in the CATECHISMS issued by the Bishops . . .

If a baptised person ‘deliberately denies or doubts a dogma properly so-called, he is guilty of the sin of heresy (CIC 1325, Par. 2), and automatically becomes subject to the punishment of excommunication (CIC 2314, Par. 1) . . .

The Theological Grades of Certainty

1. The highest degree of certainty appertains to the immediately revealed truths. The belief due to them is based on the authority of God Revealing (fides divina), and if the Church, through its teaching, vouches for the fact that a truth is contained in Revelation, one’s certainty is then also based on the authority of the Infallible Teaching Authority of the Church (fides catholica). If Truths are defined by a solemn judgment of faith (definition) of the Pope or of a General Council, they are “de fide definita.”

2. Catholic truths or Church doctrines, on which the infallible Teaching Authority of the Church has finally decided, are to be accepted with a faith which is based on the sole authority of the Church (fides ccclesiastica). These truths are as infallibly certain as dogmas proper.

3. A Teaching proximate to Faith (sententia fidei proxima) is a doctrine, which is regarded by theologians generally as a truth of Revelation, but which has not yet been finally promulgated as such by the Church.

4. A Teaching pertaining to the Faith, i.e., theologically certain (sententia ad fidem pertinens, i.e., theologice certa) is a doctrine, on which the Teaching [p.10] Authority of the Church has not yet finally pronounced, but whose truth is guaranteed by its intrinsic connection with the doctrine of revelation (theological conclusions).

5. Common Teaching (sententia communis) is doctrine, which in itself belongs to the field of the free opinions, but which is accepted by theologians generally.

6. Theological opinions of lesser grades of certainty are called probable, more probable, well-founded (sententia probabilis, probabilior, bene fundata).

Those which are regarded as being in agreement with the consciousness of Faith of the Church are called pious opinions (sententia pia). The least degree of certainty is possessed by the tolerated opinion (opinio tolerata), which is only weakly founded, but which is tolerated by the Church.

With regard to the doctrinal teaching of the Church it must be well noted that not all the assertions of the Teaching Authority of the Church on questions of Faith and morals are infallible and consequently irrevocable. Only those are infallible which emanate from General Councils representing the whole episcopate, and the Papal Decisions Ex Cathedra (cf. D 1839).

The ordinary and usual form of the Papal teaching activity is not infallible. Further, the decisions of the Roman Congregations (Holy Office, Bible Commission) are not infallible. Nevertheless normally they are to be accepted with an inner assent which is based on the high supernatural authority of the Holy See (assensus internus supernaturalis, assensus religiosus). The so-called “silentium obsequiosum,” that is “reverent silence,” does not generally suffice. By way of exception, the obligation of inner agreement may cease if a competent expert, after a renewed scientific investigation of all grounds, arrives at the positive conviction that the decision rests on an error. (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, ed. James Canon Bastible, translated by Patrick Lynch, Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, 1974; orig. 1952 in German, 4-5, 9-10)


According to Pope Pius XII in Humani Generis and Vatican II in Lumen Gentium #25, even non-infallible teachings are to receive the submission of mind and will of the faithful. While not requiring the ASSENT OF FAITH, they CANNOT be disputed nor rejected publicly and the benefit of the doubt must be given to the one possessing the fullness of teaching authority. The heterodox concept of a dual magisteria, i.e., the theologians, is not based on scriptural nor traditional grounds. Some have gone as far as to propose a triple magisteria, the body of believers. While it is true that as a whole, the body of believers is infallible in that SENSUS FIDEI  is that the Church as the Mystical Body cannot be in error on matters of faith and morals, the TEACHING AUTHORITY (Magisterium) resides soley with the Roman Pontiff and the College of Bishops in union with him.


Pope Paul VI:

“…it [the Council] avoided issuing solemn dogmatic definitions backed by the Church’s infallible teaching authority.”

Yes, in other words, there were no definitions in Fr. Most’s category #1: as in 1854, 1870, and 1950. That still does not mean that you are free to disobey or doubt the Council where you wish (old man Luther again).

The council’s decrees, said Paul VI, were pastoral in nature.

All teaching is pastoral, in that it is leading the sheep, so to speak.

A pastoral council, by definition, cannot “propose a teaching of faith or morals as one to be held by all the faithful.”

The pastoral vs. dogmatic distinction is bogus. A friend of mine who is a canon lawyer, wrote to me:

    This “pastoral” vs. “dogmatic” council distinction is a bunch of hooey (a technical canonical term meaning whatever). Those two words are descriptive, not definitive. Whatever Vatican II taught authoritatively, Catholics are bound to hold. Period. Of course, finding out just what Vatican II taught authoritatively is not always so clear as it was with, say, Trent, but that’s a different problem from the one your friend wants to pose.

Am I being like Luther?

Yes. I don’t see any essential difference, in terms of the original comparison I made.

No, I am simply following what a Pope has explicitly stated: Vatican II was not infallible.

He didn’t say that; he spoke of “solemn dogmatic definitions.” Here is what he said officially, at the close of the Council:

We decided moreover that all that has been established synodally is to be religiously observed by all the faithful, for the glory of God and the dignity of the Church and for the tranquillity and peace of all men. We have approved and established these things, decreeing that the present letters are and remain stable and valid, and are to have legal effectiveness, so that they be disseminated and obtain full and complete effect, and so that they may be fully convalidated by those whom they concern or may concern now and in the future; and so that, as it be judged and described, all efforts contrary to these things by whomever or whatever authority, knowingly or in ignorance be invalid and worthless from now on.

Given in Rome at St. Peter’s, under the [seal of the] ring of the fisherman, Dec. 8, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the year 1965, the third year of our pontificate.

So you are not at liberty to dissent from its teaching in part or in entirety. It’s as simple as that. You are faced with declaring either the Council or the pontificate of Paul VI (or both) invalid – an impossible task, if precedent means anything. Either way, your position (as an orthodox Catholic proposition) collapses.

And yes, Popes, Councils, and a unanimous college of Bishops scattered throughout the world can err WHEN NOT ISSUING DOGMATIC DEFINITIONS.

Theoretically they may err in rare cases, yet as a Catholic, you are obliged to accept their teaching. It is not for you to judge. They judge themselves. We are Catholics, not Protestants.

We all agree that Vatican II was valid an ecumenical council, validly convoked and promulgated by two validly elected Popes. We all agree it did not define any dogmas.

Not as Vatican I did, no.

We also, I think, agree its purpose was pastoral, that is to come up with more effective ways of disseminating Catholic doctrine rather than teaching or clarifying Catholic doctrine itself.

As long as this isn’t used as a tactic to dismiss its authoritativeness, as I have argued previously. The Council did indeed clarify much doctrine, including even the notion of Mary as Mediatrix, the nature of the Church, conciliar infallibility, extra ecclesiam nulla salus, etc.

If anyone doubts this last point, let me supply a quote from John XXIII:

The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this, that the Sacred Deposit of Christian Doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously…The salient point of this Council is not, therefore, a discussion of one article or another of the fundamental doctrine of the Church.

(Opening speech of Vatican II)
Also, another one from Paul VI:

DIFFERING from other Councils, this one was not directly dogmatic, but disciplinary and pastoral.

[Emphasis mine]–Pope Paul VI, August 6, 1975, General Audience

Yes, this was the overall purpose, but that doesn’t rule out any and all dogmatic considerations in the documents, nor does it give a carte blanche approval of disobedience. I also cited Paul VI’s injunction at the end which called for total obedience to the Council. So why do you feel free to disobey any part of it at will?

Now, you ask, can an ordinary layman call a Pope to task for making heretical statements? Yes, he can, as I mentioned in my previous email and gave examples.

In extraordinary instances, yes. The present situation is not one of those.

Your reply was that these men were saints. Well, maybe so, but I must ask, did they know they were saints when they were doing it?

Probably not, as saints are humble, by definition. But they were acting in cases of clear dereliction of duty. You can’t show that what we have today in Church teaching departs from received Tradition. If so, then how do you avoid accepting the notion that the Church defected, violating Jesus’ promise in Matthew 16 to Peter?

I’d like to quote from two Ecumenical Councils – the Council of Constance and the Second Vatican Council.

[This Council] declares that, legitimately assembled in the Holy Spirit, constituting a General Council and representing the Catholic Church militant, it has power immediately from Christ; and that everyone of whatever state or dignity, even papal, is bound to obey it in those matters which pertain to the faith.

(from Decretum Haec Sancta, Council of Constance, April 6, 1415)

This is the heresy of Gallicanism, or conciliarism: condemned at Vatican I. Councils are only infallible to the extent that they are ratified by the pope (Remember Leo the Great and the 28th Canon at Chalcedon?), so that overcomes this alleged contradiction in Catholic ecclesiology. Pope Pius II (formally an advocate of conciliarism himself), in his Bull Execrabilis (1460) formally forbade an appeal from a pope to a Council. Vatican I made this a matter of dogmatic definition. Do you accept it?

    • The college or body of bishops has for all that no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, as its head… for the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, namely, and as pastor of the entire Church, has full, supreme and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered. (Dogmatic Constitution

Lumen Gentium

     22, Second Vatican Council, November 14, 1964)

Precisely. This is authentic Catholic Tradition.

I would reaffirm now my belief that Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are the two sources of the Magisterium.

I agree. I believe in the material sufficiency of Scripture, as authoritatively interpreted by the Church, and preserved in its Tradition. Three-legged stool . . .

A few points:

Father Ludwig Ott and Father William Most are not themselves infallible sources of teaching, and their theories regarding the proper sorting of magisterial pronouncements are precisely that — theirs.

So this is your “answer” to all that material I painstakingly collected? Give me Church documents, then, to overthrow what I have argued, by using them as sources. You guys place your own fallible opinions or that of Abp. Lefebvre or St. Robert Bellarmine above that of the pope or Ecumenical Councils, then turn around and say our citing of people like Ott and Most is improper and inconclusive. I continue to await an authoritative counter-argument. This is surely not it. All you have said is “who are they?” — a mild form of the ad hominem logical fallacy.

What is the sensus fidelium? What meaning does this phrase have when, for example, 70% of the American faithful no longer believe in the Real Presence?

Those people are out of the Church, by definition, as they have espoused blatant heresy. So this is a non sequitur with regard to sensus fidelium, which has to do with the opinion of real Catholics, not merely nominal ones.

How is holding firm to tradition different from being like Luther? Traditional Catholics do not introduce brand new ideas like salvation by faith alone or the sufficiency of Scripture . . . They simply try to abide by the teaching handed down to us from the Apostles rather than coming up with new PR to make heretics like us more.

Disobeying popes and Councils alike are not “brand new ideas?”

I “refuse to obey Ecumenical Councils”? That’s a strong accusation. What direct command of the Second Vatican Council have I disobeyed?

You have tried to split hairs and play word games, in attempt to be “for” the Council and against it simultaneously. This is a classic case of undermining the authority of a Council, all the while claiming to uphold it. This is as clever as Calvin’s tortured logic in opposition to the Church. The Council is either authentic (i.e., protected by the Holy Spirit) and consistent with Catholic Tradition or it is not. But you are bound as a Catholic to obediently submit to it. If you don’t like it, then say so plainly, and become an Anglican or an Orthodox. This gets back to the bottom line of indefectibility, which I discussed in other posts today.

What schismatic act have I committed? Are you competent to judge of me in this matter?

What I have said is that there is such a thing as a “schismatic spirit.” As far as I am concerned, these discussions we are having shouldn’t even have to be necessary between Catholics. You guys are arguing far more like Anglicans than Catholics, in my opinion.


The Second Vatican Council is “completely consistent with prior tradition”?

Yes. Otherwise, the Church has defected – precisely what it cannot do, according to our Lord Jesus.

The decrees on ecumenism, religious freedom and the heretics are remarkably de novo – the most prominent referenced source is one encyclical of His Holiness Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris.

Rapid recent development, based on clear kernels in ancient Tradition. You can either deny development itself, or rapid development (if so, please explain 4th and 5th century Christology, Mariology, papal supremacy, and the Canon of Scripture, among other things), or deny that the Donatists were considered implicitly part of the Church by virtue of their baptism (hence Augustine argued against their re-baptism), etc. I have much on these subjects already on my website — by flaming liberals such as Karl Adam and Fr. John A. Hardon.

The vagueness of the documents (as opposed to the straightforward clarity of Vatican I, Trent, etc.) is the stuff of legend.

So you say. Very well, then. You maintain in principle that a professed Catholic can selectively accept decrees of Ecumenical Councils. So I ask you again, for all to see: which decrees of Nicaea, Trent, and Vatican I do you dissent from? If none, how is it that the Holy Spirit could protect those Councils from error, yet when it comes to another indisputably Ecumenical Council, it is a free-for-all and a successful modernist “conspiracy of ambiguity”? Was the Holy Spirit on leave from 1962-1965? I don’t buy it. One must exercise faith. The modernists have not succeeded in perverting a single doctrine of the Catholic faith. Nor will they ever do so. If history teaches us anything, it is that. And if you can’t see that, you have no business being a Catholic, as far as I am concerned. If you do see it, you have no business trashing Vatican II the way you do. It is scandalous; contemptible.

Of course there are all sorts of attempts to subvert the faith by bad bishops and theologians, even at the Council itself. It has always been so. Look at the Arians at Nicaea, the “Robber Council” of 449, the conciliarists of Constance, the Nestorians at Ephesus, or the ultramontanists at Vatican I. The hand of God is shown in the fact that these conspiracies never succeed. Jesus promised us that they never would, and history remarkably confirms this. But you apparently lack the faith to see the hand of God in the present crisis of liberalism. Rather than viewing the Holy Father’s writings and actions as the decisive blow against modernism (which I believe the verdict of history will amply confirm), you see him as part of the problem. Quite amazing.

I could do without veiled references to me being a heretic or a schismatic. I think we’re all trying to be obedient Catholics.

I attribute to all reactionaries good will, prima facie. One, however (especially an apologist like myself), has to speak plainly about the harmful implications of positions. As far as I remember, I have sought to not apply the term “schismatic” or “heretic” to people as blanket descriptions, but rather, to try to persuade them that their position is perilous and very close to those things, in spirit, and by logical extension. But even If I did that, is it any worse than reactionaries calling people like Louis Bouyer or de Lubac or von Balthasar “modernists” (as, e.g., Gerry Matatics has done)?

Dave has grudgingly admitted that the faithful may resist heretical Popes and bishops, qualifying his statement that such occurrences are rare and justified only in extreme situations.

:-) “Grudgingly?” LOL I have had the following web page on my website for well over a year now: “Laymen Advising and Rebuking Popes.”

In any event, it remains true that no pope has ever taught heresy as binding upon the faithful (and that includes the famous trio: Honorius, Liberius, and Vigilius). As far as I know, John XXII is the only one who ever held a heretical opinion even privately, and he retracted it before he died. So then, no pope has ever been an obstinate heretic, let alone binding the faithful to such error. And you guys come along and say John Paul II is a loose cannon, teaching all sorts of error . . . Amazing . . .

What of indefectibility? If Vatican II issued statements that were in error, has the Church defected? Not at all, for there still is a remnant of those who are faithful to the tradition (I’m not necessarily speaking of the SSPX; I don’t know enough about them to say). There are good bishops still in union with Rome who have not adopted the heretical attitudes of Vatican II.

Which attitudes are those?

The situation is not without precedent. Back in the 4th century we had a situation when practically the entire Church with the exception of St. Athanasius, was Arian. Even the Pope, while not explicitly and Arian, signed a very problematic creed. Did the Church defect? No, the Arian crisis passed and the mainstream became orthodox again. Indefectibility does not guarantee that the majority of the Church can’t err when not excercising its infallible authority.

Rome stood steadfast during the Arian crisis, as always. That’s all we need to know, for the purpose of our present discussion. This fact rather supports my position, not yours. Here is some of my research on the history of heresies:

    The heresy Arianism held that Jesus was created by the Father. In trinitarian Christianity, Christ and the Holy Spirit are both equal to, uncreated, and co-eternal with, God the Father. Arius (c.256-336), the heresiarch, was based in Alexandria and died in Constantinople. He was a student of Lucian of Antioch (d.312), who denied the eternal existence of Christ, and was the head of the theological school at Antioch. Eusebius (d.342), also a disciple of Lucian, and the next most prominent Arian, was Bishop of Nicomedia, the former capital of Turkey, and also wound up in Constantinople after 339. Eudoxius (300-70) was Bishop of Antioch and Constantinople in 358 and 360 respectively. Aetius (d.c.370), a prominent philosopher of Arianism, came from Antioch and later moved to Alexandria. In 363 he was ordained a Bishop by Arians without a fixed see. Eunomius (d.394), studied in Alexandria under Aetius, moved to Antioch and became Bishop of Cyzicus (northwest Turkey) in 360. Macedonius (d.c.362), Bishop of Constantinople from c.342 to 360, was a semi-Arian. George of Cappadocia (d.361), an extreme Arian, was Bishop of Alexandria from 357 to his death. In a Council at Antioch in 341, the majority of 97 eastern bishops subscribed to a form of semi-Arianism, whereas in a Council at Rome in the same year, under Pope Julius I, the trinitarian St. Athanasius was vindicated by over 50 Italian bishops. The western-dominated Council of Sardica (Sofia) in 343 again upheld Athanasius’ orthodoxy, whereas the eastern Council of Sirmium in 351 espoused Arianism, which in turn was rejected by the western Councils of Arles (353) and Milan (355).

The Council of Nicaea was orthodox in the midst of the Arian heresy. Likewise, Vatican II was orthodox in the midst of the modernist heresy. I don’t see you selectively agreeing with Nicaea (or any other Council thus far). But you want to pick and choose from Vatican II, like a good modernist, cafeteria Catholic. Why is this? Who are you to judge an Ecumenical Council, pray tell? What authority do you bring in order to overthrow the orthodoxy of its decrees? You think your charism of “conscience” or whatever you want to call it, is superior to that which rests upon the bishops as a corporate body, and on the pope?

Thank you for falling so far short of the anathemas I have had hurled at me . . . I find you a LOT easier to listen to. If only you could teach your style of ecumenism to [name].

Well thanks. “. . . in all things, charity.” I try to speak the truth (as I understand it) in love, by God’s help. But I thought ecumenism was one of those “liberal” things? . . .

Did the Pope and bishops who compromised with Arianism lose the faith? I’m talking compromise, not blatant heresy.

Both Arianism and Semi-Arianism are heresies – and very serious ones indeed, as they are Christological. So they did lose the faith. But the (Roman) Councils and popes of the time did not. Hence, Roman primacy and indefectibility.

Likewise did Peter lose the faith when Paul rebuked him? I don’t think so. Faith can be weak, without necessarily being absent. Our Lord said words to that effect several times: “Ye of little faith”, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard”, etc.

But this doesn’t line up with your much more severe judgments elsewhere. Being in bed with the liberals, in effect, is not merely “weak,” it is betrayal – conscious or not. Or at least radical compromise.

The indefectibility of the Church is based on the words of Our Lord: “He who hears you, hears Me”, “…the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” etc. I could multiply recent examples of very bad behaviour by bishops and by bishops conferences, but for you that doesn’t excuse my criticism of the council. So what, exactly, have I accused the council of? Of compromise. Of (implicitly) trying the impossibility of serving two masters. But not of explicitly turning against God – that’s not what trying to serve two masters means.

This is getting weird. The Council was either double-minded or it wasn’t. Even you say it is impossible to serve two masters, following the words of Jesus (Mt 6:24). If a man can’t serve two masters, then how can a Council, which has a special charism from the Holy Spirit? I think you want to have it both ways, and this is your way of hanging on to orthodox Catholicism. But to do so, you are forced to ironically equivocate in a fashion far more in line with the “ambiguity” you falsely accuse the Council of. I find this particular line of reasoning of yours downright surreal.

Our Lady of La Salette uses quite strong language – She says “Rome shall lose the faith and become the seat of the Antichrist”. Is this a false apparition? St John Vianney feared so, but change his mind later. Never mind for now whether Our Blessed Mother actually said those words, are the words themselves impossible: “Rome shall lose the faith”?

I suppose the papacy could relocate, as it once did. The papacy itself can never “lose faith.”

I’m accusing Vatican II of compromising the faith, not losing it, like St Peter and Pope Liberius before them. I see Vatican II as the lukewarm church of Sardis (Apoclaypse 3:1-6) “quia nomen habes quod vivas, et mortuus es”.

So all other General Councils were protected by the Holy Spirit, but Vatican II somehow was not. Why not just (somehow) deny that it is ecumenical? You are really between a rock and a hard place on this one. You must posit an essential change of principle which distinguishes this Council from all the others. Trouble is: that would overthrow both Catholic ecclesiology and proper Newmanian development of doctrine.

If Our Lord could call a church – a real church, really part of His Mystical Body – that you have the name of being alive, and you are dead, then I think it just might be permissible that I say the same of a council. Vatican II has the name of being alive, and it is dead. Certainly I must not qualify or distinguish my attachment to the Catholic Church, but if I were living in Sardis at the start of the second century I certainly should qualify and distinguish my attachment to the behaviour of that local church. Likewise, you believe in Vatican II without reservation. I don’t.

Then you certainly believe in defectibility, if it is “dead.” This is the very highest level of collegial Catholic authority. The Council speaks for the whole Church. As the Council goes, so goes the Church. So if it is dead, then the Church is also.

It’s hard for you to tolerate what I say, because if we can’t take Vatican II as a rock, what CAN we trust?

Not “what;” “Whom.” Jesus – the basis for the trust in the authority of the Council in the first place. If we had to trust in mere men, indeed there would be no hope at all.

Obviously not the mere human opinions of the SSPX.

Now there’s a sentence where you hit the nail on the head! LOL

And you’ll want to know what grounds I have for treating Vatican II as a unique case among councils. I don’t have a theological argument for that. I only have evidence – i.e. the lack of commands and anathemas.

The entire teaching is a “command” of sorts – by its very nature as a General Council. So this is rather a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I seem to get nowhere pointing out the vagueness of it – you won’t let yourself see that because it’s a council.

I don’t think it is vague. I think it is nuanced and expressive, giving evidence of profound and spiritual and complex thought (in other words, exhibiting many of the characteristics which drew me to Catholicism as the fullness of truth), and geared towards facing the increased challenges of modernity. This is exactly as it should be. But I deny that it is vague about any heretofore-held Catholic doctrine.

So what did it actually teach? Religious liberty, ecumenism, collegiality. I have no problem with these things as practised by YOU – you read these things in a Catholic sense. But the liberals take these three things in a heretical sense. I hear you say “So what?” So, they have as much claim as you to be faithful to the WORDS “Religious liberty, ecumenism, collegiality” – words which mean what people want ’em to mean. The founder of the SSPX saw it coming while the council was in progress.

Thus you reveal to us that your entire argument rests on an obvious and glaring fallacy: viz.,

    P1 The Council says x (in its actual words).
    P2 The “conservatives” (i.e., orthodox Catholics) interpret the words in a Catholic sense, consistent with Sacred Tradition.
    P3 The liberals (or, modernists) interpret the words in a heterodox, unCatholic, revolutionary sense.
    C1 The words of the Council must therefore lend themselves – in their essence, intrinsically, and objectively – to either interpretation.
    C2 Since both readings occur in fact, therefore the Council is deliberately ambiguous, and “compromises the faith.”

The fallacy lies in C1, leading to further false assertion C2. It is not established by logic; nor is it proven that the Council is the sole (or even primary) cause of what comes after it. I shall show you how fallacious this is, using the analogy of the Bible:

    PP1 The Bible says x (in its actual words).
    PP2 Catholics interpret the words in a Catholic sense, consistent with Sacred Tradition.
    PP3 Protestants, and heretics such as Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons interpret (many of) the words in a heterodox, unCatholic sense.
    CC1 The words of the Bible must therefore lend themselves – in their essence, intrinsically, and objectively – to either the Catholic or the heretical interpretation.
    CC2 Since both readings occur in fact, therefore the Bible is deliberately ambiguous, and “compromises the faith.”

The reasoning is precisely the same in both cases. All Christian sects and heresies appeal to the Bible (and here we encounter the madness, chaos, and relativism of sola Scriptura). Likewise, liberals appeal to Vatican II. We would expect no less, since they also appeal to Scripture (even homosexual activists try to find support for their abominable viewpoints in Scripture, with some of the worst, twisted exegesis known to man). Pro-aborts find abortion in the U.S. Constitution, under a supposed “right to privacy” — rather like the ersatz liberal alleged “spirit” of Vatican II. Just as the Bible in no wise teaches what they claim it does, so it is the case that Vatican II does not teach their damnable heresies, either.

One must look at the objective words of the Council, interpreted through cross-reference within its own documents, and the historical precedent of Catholic orthodoxy, just as one does with the Bible: through exegesis, hermeneutics, and the appeal to the apostolic Tradition as a norm of authentic interpretation. You have it exactly backwards – you locate the meaning of the conciliar documents in the liberal distortions and “co-opting” of them, which makes no sense at all; in fact, it is scandalous, coming from one who claims to be upholding Tradition. It is as unseemly as taking a Mormon interpretation of Scripture as the criterion for proper biblical hermeneutics, then condemning the Bible because of the stupidity of Mormon teaching.

Conclusion: a council, even one presided over by a Pope, CAN compromise (not lose) the faith.

You are correct in concluding that I say – by faith – that this is impossible. But even if I assume for a moment that it were possible, the reasoning you give for coming to that conclusion (liberal interpretation and application) is entirely fallacious. That won’t do; you would have to show blatant contradictions between Vatican II documents and their predecessors. I know: ecumenism, blah blah blah, right? I’ve tried to explain that in papers and links on my website, but one seems to either “get” that explanation or not, to see the inherent value of ecumenism or not see it, for some reason or other.

Is my conclusion impossible? Why?

Yes, because in its supreme teaching authority (only slightly less than the pope’s), if a Council were to err in that fashion, the Church would not have certainty and truth, as brought about by the working of the Holy Spirit – expressly promised by our Lord Himself. And – again – Luther would have been right at Worms in 1521. You would have no argument to bring against his central thesis, and basis for his rebellion: that “popes and Councils can and do err.” You would have been in his cheerleading section, I guess. That is the seed of defectibility which made it thinkable at all for the so-called “Reformers” to set up rival Christianities and churches. You know, the “Babylonian Captivity.”

Whether I’m right or wrong in my attitude to Vatican II in particular, I agree with all my heart with what you say about the Church’s indefectibility.

Then I must conclude that you are inconsistent – talking out of both sides of your mouth. Maybe you truly don’t see that. I don’t question your sincerity for a moment. I hope this post makes it more clear to you, what you are doing. I say it again: this brand of reactinaryism logically leads to Anglicanism, Orthodoxy, or sedevacantism. It is self-defeating.

And I don’t think the true church is exclusively the traditionalists – I think very highly of you as a brother in the faith.

Well, I appreciate that. I like you, too. It’s too bad these differences have to exist – whatever the truth is in fact.

Maybe a philosophical definition of liberalism? Liberalism is more about self-deception than deception of others. The liberal does not curse God, but instead he vaguely assumes that God won’t mind what he gets up to. Archbishop Lefebvre has said that the Church has always condemned liberalism, but has not always excommunicated liberals. This is because it is impossible to leglislate against vagueness.

This is silly, too. We know precisely what liberals / modernist dissidents believe, en masse. Examples:

    1. They favor contraception.
    2. They favor radical secularist / unisex feminism and women priests.
    3. They think Jesus (and inspired Scripture) could be in error, and teach theological error.
    4. They favor divorce, or at least a very loose application of annulments.
    5. They deny the Real Presence.
    6. They favor situational and relativist ethics (especially in sexual matters).
    7. They habitually deny or disobey Church and papal authority and infallibility; pick and choose what they want to believe (Protestantized “cafeteria Catholicism”) and apply an erroneous, anti-traditional view of conscience.
    8. They undermine and decry liturgical tradition.
    9. They make the first eleven chapters of Genesis completely metaphorical, which subverts the doctrines of monogenism and original sin.
    10. They underemphasize or downplay Catholic distinctive doctrines, and either adopt indifferentism, or something close to it, including the denial of “no salvation outside the Church.”
      11. They deny the

in partu 

    virginity of Mary (physical virginity during the birth of Jesus), and sometimes perpetual virginity itself.
    12. Some are even anti-supernaturalists; deny the devil’s existence (McBrien), various miracles (even those of Jesus), etc.

Etc., etc. What’s vague about all this?

You seem to think liberals and modernists are generally malicious and inexcusable. I don’t – I think they’re mostly successful in convincing themselves that they’re perfectly respectable Catholics.

I agree. They’re self-deluded, but that doesn’t make their views any less false, or execrable.

Peter compromised. Weakness, not sin. That is exactly what I understand is the case with most liberals and modernists – very few have the malice to really know what they are doing.

But that’s irrelevant. You are talking hypocrisy and culpability. I am talking objective sin and false teaching. Apples and oranges.

John Paul II is no pope, if indeed (which I vehemently deny) he has so little true authority in your eyes, and is so self-contradictory. You forget that the notorious “bad popes” of the Renaissance had little use for teaching, and so didn’t do it much. One can’t say that about thispope! But you fault his teaching. I had more respect for the Holy Father as a Protestant, for Pete’s sake, than you do as a Catholic! I guess you will think that proves your point. But I think not.

Okay – so I may privately doubt the council, but may not vocalise my doubt? I doubt that’s what you mean. If I must, must, MUST receive the non-infallible word of Vatican II without question, how is that different from ex cathedra? My turn to refuse your distinction :-)).

You must give the Council internal assent and submission of mind and will. This being the case, public doubt is certainly prohibited. As I’ve stated many times, this is the distinction between obedience and technical levels of infallibility (which canon lawyers and theologians with nothing better to do in their ivory towers can mull over). I, as a parent, can tell my son to not fornicate. That would be, in effect, an infallible statement, in terms of moral certainty. I could also forbid him to stay out till, say, 11:00 PM. Obviously, the second is a much less certain proposition, in terms of right and wrong. But my son is bound to obey both “commands,” by the natural order of the authority of parents. Two very different levels of “infallibility,” yet both entail more or less absolute obedience.

It’s silly to restrict obedience (even in theoretical terms) only to ex cathedra statements. That would lead, e.g., arguably to a position whereby one could favor women priests, contraception, and abortion (as some liberals have, in fact, argued). That’s why this desire to have so many loopholes in conciliar and papal authority is a fundamentally liberal and dissenting outlook.

Your denial that compromise is possible in a Church Council document is human opinion, not dogma.

Hardly. This was the consensus of the Fathers – no small consideration – and was always pretty much assumed, according to Ott. It has been more explicitly defined in Vatican II, which even you admit is an Ecumenical Council. That’s more than enough for most Catholics to accept, my friend. But again, if the documents were properly applied, and people followed them, everything would have been great. Human nature being what it is, that didn’t happen. You blame the Council; I blame human rebelliousness, pride, and the cultural zeitgeist of the late 60s and 70s. God couldn’t make Adam and Eve remain sinless and obedient (given free will). Neither can Vatican II make liberals obedient, by the same token (and one wouldn’t expect it – given pride and Church history).

I claim the modernists HAVE succeeded in getting deliberately vague texts passed by the council.

How does one go about proving that something is “vague” anyway?

Indeed, I find your inability to see the Pope as a problem equally amazing. Have you ever heard of him telling anyone that they need the Roman Catholic religion if they wish to gain heaven and avoid hell?

Sure (will this crazy slander of the Holy Father ever cease?):

Today many people seem to rebel against the claim that salvation can be found only in the Church. (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, 1994, p. 135 – he had just mentioned the “Catholic Church” in the previous sentence, so context makes it clear to what he refers)

He cites explicit NON-AMBIGUOUS teaching of Vatican II, from Lumen Gentium 14, to the same end (pp. 139-140):

    Those who do not persist in charity, even if they remain in the Church in ‘body’ but not in ‘heart,’ cannot be saved.

So one not only ought to be a member of the Church, but an active, devout one. Then he interprets the Council:

The Council’s words . . . shed light on why the Church is necessary for salvation. (p. 140; emphasis in original)

People are saved through the Church, they are saved in the Church, but they always are saved by the grace of Christ. (p. 140; emphasis in original)

[T]he Catholic Church knows that it has received the fullness of the means of salvation . . . (p. 141; emphasis in original)

The Church wants . . . to point out to all the path to eternal salvation, the fundamental principles of life in the Spirit and in truth. (p. 141)

I’m sure I could find a hundred more such references, if I had the time and desire. But obviously you see in the pope’s writings only what you want to see there (just as with Vatican II). E.g., you would point out, I imagine, some ecumenical, diplomatic gesture of the pope, as if it contradicted his above sentiments, and then conclude that he is two-faced and liberal – never dreaming of any way that apologetics and ecumenism can actually co-exist together. You said in your own words that you saw both of these things even in me! There is no contradiction here, between the two functions of the pope, and all Catholics, to some extent.

Nothing in Vatican II goobledygook is obvious. That’s why I don’t feel too worried about ignoring it.

This is flat-out ridiculous. Why even bother to reply to such a sweeping charge (how can one rationally do so, anyway?) – obviously derived from an emotional bias from the outset.

The Novus Ordo Mass did not develop, . . . [but] I’m not going to call it invalid, nor a complete overthrow of the earlier Mass.

More doublespeak and equivocation. If it didn’t develop, it is a corruption, and no part of Catholic Tradition. If it is a corruption, it is a “complete overthrow,” as the essence has changed. And it is invalid. This is straight out of Newman’s classic exposition of development. But you want to have it both ways. Again, you do the very thing you falsely accuse the Council of. So you say that John Paul II is trying to destroy the Church?

Yes. And – on the evidence – he does not realise that he is doing so.

So you would apply to the Vicar of Christ (and by extension, the Church) a state of affairs which Christ Himself said was impossible (Mk 3:22-27)?

You astonish me.

Good. Jesus had that effect, too.

You think that in the face of rebellion the only right action is private prayer for the rebels?

No; there has been plenty of action taken. Not nearly enough for your taste, but plenty nonetheless.

Failure on the part of authority to condemn error – especially error that claims the name Catholic – is failure to preach the Gospel.

Have you not seen the Catechism? Are you unfamiliar with The Slendor of Truth, or any number of hard-hitting encyclicals? Did you forget what happened to Boff, Curran, Kung, Fox et al? This is the condemning of error. Discipline, on the other hand, is not so absolute – it is a matter of prudence and wisdom.

You are blind! Call that severe! Excommunicate the bloody lot I say. Whole countries have been under interdict before now, and it was extremely good for them. What makes the 20th century so special?

I see. Is that why England is now a Catholic country? Flourishing in religious revival? I used to think exactly like you, so I am tolerant of it. I understand it. Probably on more days than not, even now, I agree with this approach, by temperament. But I also believe that the pope and the mind of the Church has a little more wisdom than I do.

Call that forceful? Get a text of John Paul II rebuking a subordinate and compare to any pre-V2 Pope doing the same. He gives a slap over the wrist with a damp cloth, and says no more about it.

This is curious. We just witnessed you blowing off [name] because of his bluster and harsh words for you (and I can’t say that I blame you, by the way). You say you much prefer my more “ecumenical” approach (thus strongly implying that I have a far better chance to persuade you). But when it comes to the pope, you want him to be much more of [name’s] style, and somehow conclude that that will work better with other people than a calmer, more ecumenical, nuanced approach, even though your very own reaction to a scathing rebuke proves otherwise. Do you deny that a large-scale schism would occur if the pope acted as you wish he would act?

No. But it would be worth it. Publicly declaring apostates to be such would help, not harm their souls.

Why does it not surprise me that you regard schism as a minor thing, not as the ghastly thing – to be avoided at all costs – that it is?

There’s one statement you made here that really struck me:

Someone (I forget who) wrote: “May I toss a fantasy at you: If (God forbid) a future Pope were to teach that contraception is good, would you accuse that Pope of an abuse of power, and publicly reprove him?”

And you wrote:

    Yes, and beyond that, I would leave the Church, unless he was removed due to insanity.

May I ask why you would leave the Church? Similar things have happened. As I have noted, pope John XXII explicitly taught formal heresy, of which the above is definitely an example. He even imprisoned a monk who confronted him. Would you have left the Church then?

No. In that case, it was not a matter of an outright espousal of immorality, but rather, a somewhat speculative matter of eschatology. He did retract the opinion also. But if contraception were now accepted by a pope (and taught authoritatively), that would be calling evil good, and would mean that the Church had defected. And if it had defected, it couldn’t be the true Church, or else it would be reduced to the level of all the other Christian sects – just one of many options. I ruled out Orthodoxy because of its acceptance of contraception, so if the Catholic Church reversed itself, I would have to rule it out, too. But of course I don’t believe this will ever happen . . . I am just applying my principles to a wildly speculative scenario.

In John XXII’s case, Catholic historian Warren Carroll thinks senility may have been involved, as the controversy occurred in his 88th-90th years of age. In 1332, he explained that his sermons on this topic were not intended to define doctrine but simply to initiate discussion. He claimed that he was acting as a private theologian, not as the pope. Carroll states that this was “imprudent in the highest degree.” But in any event, the aged pope retracted the heresy on his deathbed – not having defined it, so that infallibility was not involved.


I think I detect a systematic error the pervades most “conservative” apologists, especially converts from Protestantism. They seem to equate the Church, and the magisterium with the hierarchy that’s presently in power. Anything the present hierarchy teaches must be true because only then will the faithful have absolute assurance of the truth.

Of course I have never said this. The very fact that I cited Ott and Most on varying levels of authority mitigates against this thesis. And I have admitted that popes could theoretically teach error, by citing the very case of John XXII. Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge, Ott and Most weren’t converts. The authors of the two Catholic Encyclopedia articles I cited were probably not converts, etc. So this theory doesn’t apply to me – whether or not it applies to other convert apologists. And it would involve many people who are not converts.

Interesting speculation, though. :-) All my sources believe that obedience is not optional for a Catholic. I have clearly made the distinction all along between infallibility and the duty of obedience.

This error may be a result of the doctrinal chaos in Protestantism that caused them to convert in the first place. If the present hierarchy always teaches truth, then there can be no doctrinal chaos.

Infallibility and indefectibility mean something. Obedience also means something. Roman primacy means something. This has nothing to do with Protestantism, but everything to do with our Lord’s promises, and the nature of God-ordained authority in the Church.

Unfortunately, as appealing as it would be if this were true, in fact Popes as individuals, and even the entire college of Bishops have erred in the past when not excercising infallible teaching authority. What, then, is the individual Catholic to do? He must discern, not privately judge, but discern based on what has been taught in the past. Several monks and other members of the faithful were able to discern that John XXII’s statements on the beatific vision were false. They were not exercising private judgement. They were merely following what the Church had always taught in the past, using it to discern the truth of the present situation.

In that instance, as I have said before, a firestorm was raised, and prominent theologians (e.g., the heirs of Aquinas at the University of Paris) raised their voices. And it was indeed a strong case, based on past teaching. To compare that with the petty disobedience of a fringe schismatic group to Ecclesia Dei, is stretching quite a bit – to put it mildly. Furthermore, this was a doctrinal matter, where there had been a strong Tradition prior to the controversy, whereas in the case of Abp. Lefebvre, he was flat-out disobedient – leading to automatic excommunication – and was disciplined, as a straightforward matter of Canon Law.

How does one dissent from that? It is not a matter of doctrine, but rather, the supreme teaching authority of the pope. John Paul II did pronounce fairly definitively on the matter; John XXII did not. The pope is to be obeyed. Many papal encyclicals have said so. Councils have said so. To ignore that is to adopt private judgment, and a schismatic spirit. And to pass such an attitude off as “traditional” and quintessentially Catholic, is beyond bizarre.

This discernment is akin that of individual Catholics, with consciences properly formed by the magisterium, discerning right and wrong in individual instances. Catholics are not robots, called to blindly obey and praise every whim or action of the Pope no matter how scandalous or heretical.

Here is the notorious “blind obedience” straw man. Pathetic . . . Obviously, I don’t have the attitude of “blind obedience,” if I could envision extraordinary circumstances where I would actually leave the Church – which even surprised you.
No, Catholics are competent to know the basics of the faith as has been taught for all time and are competent to know when the present hierarchy is betraying it (as I would argue is happening before our very eyes)!

But you won’t call it defectibility? You want to play the word games that apparently typify the reactionary arguments on these matters? The Council is good and it isn’t (it’s “ambiguous”); the New Mass is valid, but a stench in God’s nostrils; the pope is a wonderful man, but he is unwittingly destroying the Church, etc.

How does that make us different from modernists? We discern based on what has been clearly taught in the past by the magisterium. Modernists do not.

Disobedience to the pope (especially in a disciplinary matter) has not been taught by the magisterium. If you disagree, then produce the documents. We’re all waiting. You basically ignore the conciliar and papal and patristic and theological documentation we have produced for our views, yet give us nothing for your own case. Mainly, I hear the opinion of St. Robert Bellarmine. That’s great, but he was just a man, too, and was fallible, just as even St. Augustine (some aspects of predestination) and St. Thomas Aquinas (the Immaculate Conception) were. Who else (or what else) can you bring to the table?

We are loyal to tradition;

Selectively so, which is pure modernism.

modernists reject it, and in fact some of them explicitly admit that they do not find tradition binding. The traditionalist, on the other hand, finds himself bound more by magisterial tradition than by the fallible opinions of present popes and bishops.

Us so-called “conservatives” don’t have to make a false dichotomy between Tradition and the current leadership of the Church. We believe the Holy Spirit can preserve the Church no matter who is in charge of it. As Malcolm Muggeridge and others have observed: seeing the sort of people who have often been in charge of the Church, this is a strong indication of the Divine Hand.

In the following excerpts, it will be seen over and over that — as I have often stated — reactionaries are exercising precisely the same unCatholic principles of dissent which typify liberals and modernists. For example:

1. Liberals dissented from Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae on the grounds that it was not defined ex cathedra; therefore not infallible; therefore not obligatory upon Catholics.

2. Reactionaries dissented from John Paul II’s Ecclesia Dei (or part or all of Vatican II) on the grounds that it was not defined ex cathedra; therefore not infallible; therefore not obligatory upon Catholics.

I approach this discussion from a series of bottom-line, presuppositional principles, which I shall explain presently:
1. In a general sense, Ecumenical Councils are infallible, as my many sources have stated.
2. The ins and outs, loopholes, technicalities, restrictions, extent of binding definitions, varying levels of authority, etc. of this conciliar infallibility are best left to canon lawyers, theologians, bishops, and the pope. I don’t think it is the place for laymen to do the sort of exhaustive analysis which we have done. We simply don’t have the ecclesial authority (and in most cases, a lack of formal theological training), and I think it is unseemly prima facie. 
3. In any event, Catholics are bound to accept and obey Vatican II in toto, whatever the fine distinctions which are able to be legitimately made. Public disagreement is forbidden, and even internal assent must be granted to the teaching.
4. Vatican II does not contradict earlier Councils or popes or Sacred Tradition in general. The seemingly casual acceptance that it did, on the part of several people on this informal list, is, in my opinion, an exercise in private judgment, and a belief in (at the very least) the quasi-defectibility of the Church.


Even [name] (who questions some – many? – aspects of Vatican II) largely grants the truthfulness of my proposition #3 above. Note what he writes:

    So where does that leave us? Well, let’s think in terms of the Categories of Truth issed by the CDF that Andrew Kong sent to us. Clearly, since Vatican 2 did not definitively teach anything, Categories 1 & 2 are out (except for repetition of previously defined dogmas). That leaves Category 3:

Teachings which are from the Pope or an Ecumenical Council when they exercise their authentic magisterium in a non definitive act. Catholics must adhere with religious submission of intellect and will to these teachings. Contrary propositions are called erroneous, rash or dangerous and may incur merely a just penalty.

    So at best, the decrees of Vatican 2 belong to this 3rd level. That means that I must submit my mind and will to its non-infallible decrees.

So far, so good, but the trouble is, [name] goes on to deny proposition #4, which leads him inexorably on to the folly of setting popes against Councils, popes against popes, Councils against Councils, just as Luther did, and as the modernists and agnostics today do.

I continue to maintain that this spirit is one of individualism and private judgment – straight from the Protestant mindset. And I know a little about that, because I was a very fervent Protestant, and I believed in private judgment with every fiber of my body. I can smell it a mile away when a Catholic is acting and believing like a Protestant in some fashion. He may not be aware of this subliminal and cultural influence, but I sure am.

No one here has yet persuaded me that this way of thinking is any different from Luther at Worms. All the primary ingredients are present: incessant doubt, belief that the Church can actually be enclosed in a “Babylonian Captivity,” the spurning of authority; disobedience to superiors, an almost cynical skepticism, a pessimistic disbelief in God’s promise to protect His Church from error, hyper-rationalism, a sectarian, nitpicking, quasi-schismatic mentality, selective espousal of authority and magisterial decrees, with the ultimate criterion being one’s own private opinion.

This is not the Catholic spirit, folks. What does “authority” mean, anyhow? Why even have it at all, if people refuse to acknowledge it, and live consistently under it? That was never God’s plan. Please allow me to expand upon the notion of authority for a moment:

We might ponder other examples of authority, such as the military. Does a private cavalierly disobey the orders of a captain, let alone a General? Of course not. Does a lowly trial lawyer disregard the orders of a judge, let alone the rulings of the Supreme Court of his state or the nation? No; or if he does, there is a penalty to pay. Even in a family, there is a clear God-ordained authority. Children obey their parents. They instinctively know this. Down deep, they want to do this (and they know that they need to).

My 6- and 8-year-old sons fully understand the rationale for punishing them. They know that it is not inconsistent with either love, or the nature of things, in terms of familial authority and order. Just as the father is the head of the household, so the Holy Father is the head of the Church. Even wives are ultimately bound to submit to their husbands in rare cases of serious disagreement. Wives might be seen as analogous to the bishops in that respect – equal in most respects, but subject to the father/pope in the final analysis.

This is all self-evident. People understand the basic concept of authority. Yet when it comes to the Catholic Church, which has always believed in a Supreme Teacher, the Vicar of Christ, the Head of the Church, upon whom rests the final appeal in Church matters in every sense, we have the curious and astonishing novelty of mere laymen routinely questioning his authority (I think specifically of the SSPX refusal to accept Ecclesia Dei). Likewise, we have a skeptical questioning and deriding of an Ecumenical Council, which also partakes of infallibility, when in full agreement with the pope.

Do “hard cases” exist? Sure. I myself discuss on my website (or have links about) Honorius and John XXII, the time when there were three rival claimants to the pope, the Inquisition and what that all meant, an acknowledgement that the pope can be rebuked on occasion, the complex issues of Galileo, slavery, usury, anti-Semitism, etc. But C. S. Lewis said: “the rules of chess create chess problems.” We would expect anomalies and difficulties in any complex, thoughtful worldview.

In fact, if there weren’t any, the view which claimed to be free of them would automatically be suspect, in my opinion. My point is that people such as us are not the ones to resolve these problems. It is unseemly, improper, imprudent, divisive, and – the primary consideration – disobedient.

I have used many analogies during this discussion, as I am very fond of that method of argumentation (I’ve been highly influenced in that regard by my love for Cardinal Newman). Here is another one:

1. The Bible is said (by agnostics, atheists, stuffed-shirt professors, and modernists) to be full of many irreconcilable contradictions, which are considered to be evidence of its untrustworthiness and lack of divine inspiration and infallibility.

2. Likewise, infallible Councils and papal pronouncements (especially since “1958” – which seems to be the “magic” year of transformation) are said (by modernists, reactionaries, Orthodox, and Protestants) to be full of many irreconcilable contradictions, which are considered to be evidence of their untrustworthiness and lack of divine guidance and infallibility.

Where is the difference in principle between the two scenarios? Christians can readily see the folly and insufficiently compelling nature of the first argument. Countless so-called contradictions or “impossibilities” in Holy Scripture have been resolved by textual advances, archaeological discoveries, scholarly exegesis, linguistic analysis, documented fulfilled prophecy, the exposing of unnecessarily and unfairly hostile academic theories, etc.

Many “paradoxes” on their face have been clearly shown to be in fact logically complementary. The supposed “contradiction” is almost always merely an outgrowth of a prior prejudice and preconceived notions (oftentimes a flat-out anti-supernaturalism of radical philosophical or textual skepticism).

The point here is that the committed, devout Christian of any stripe, grants to the Bible its inspired status. He has faith that it is indeed God’s Revelation, God-breathed, preserved in its text in almost miraculous fashion, canonized by Catholic Councils under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, maker of Western Civilization and breaker of cycles of immorality and decadence, and of tyrannies and tinpot dictators throughout history. The supposed “errors” are believed to have a solution.

The benefit of the doubt is granted to Holy Scripture, while scholars wrestle with the “difficulties” of text and exegesis. One has faith, based on what they have seen by way of positive proofs and indications – a cumulative case which rings true, which is not contrary to reason, but which transcends it; harmonizes with it. I assume we here on this list all agree with that, with regard to Sacred Scripture. In any event, it is Catholic, and general Christian belief.

So why is it different when it comes to the Church and the papacy? Catholicism is a three-legged stool: Holy Scripture, Holy Tradition, and Holy Mother Church, led by the Holy Father, the pope. How is it that self-professed Catholics can deign to summarily dismiss whole decrees of an Ecumenical Council, assuming (with a deluded air of “certainty”) from the outset that they contradict earlier pronouncements of popes and Councils? Why is not the benefit of the doubt and suspension of skepticism allowed in this instance?

How can people who claim to believe — with me — in the indefectibility of the Church, and supernatural protection against any error which would bind the faithful, believe such things? What becomes of faith in God’s promises? Does such a person actually believe for a moment that God would allow mere modernists, who – by doubting and disbelieving – have lost the supernatural virtue of faith altogether – to subvert an Ecumenical Council, and by implication, the Church itself?

The very notion is preposterous!!! It’s unthinkable. It’s unCatholic. It has never happened, and will never happen. And it is the triumph of private judgment and modernist skepticism within the Church (i.e., among the crowd who accept these ludicrous propositions).

Granted, what I am discussing requires supernatural faith, and God’s grace to believe. It is not an airtight logical case. [name] claims to be an optimist rather than a pessimist, vis-a-vis the Church, strongly agreeing with my Chesterton quotes about the marvelous supernatural history of the Church and the demonstration of God’s guidance over it. How, then, can he believe what he does about the Council and the present pope?

One must persevere! One must keep the faith! One must take the long view of history, if there remains any doubt that God has supernaturally protected His Church. What becomes of one’s Christian assurance and trust in the Lord, existing side-by-side with this incessant Protestantized doubt about magisterial pronouncements?

It is absurd to be a Catholic while believing such things. The fabulous joy, hope, and overwhelming feeling of “coming home” which I – along with many converts – have experienced upon entering the Catholic Church could not last a day if I were to adopt the views which reactinaries manage to hold. For the life of me, I don’t comprehend why such people (or, for that matter, modernists) choose to remain Catholic. If you don’t believe that the Church is uniquely preserved — yes, even in this huge present CRISIS- – then, I’m sorry, this is pure Luther, pure Protestant ecclesiology. And I am well familiar with the latter, believe me.

I had the “freedom” to accept (sincerely) all sorts of errors in various denominations as a Protestant. I could essentially construct my own religion, with myself as “pope” and arbiter – sole determinant of all “doctrinal” decisions. I decided what was true and good and proper, and then sought to consistently live by it. Then by the grace of God I entered the Catholic Church (that was in 1990), only to discover that there are many people in it who want to selectively accept this and that, according to their own whims and fancies.

Catholics do this, yet they don’t seem to realize the intrinsic self-defeating nature involved. I understood early on that to be Catholic was not to act or believe in this way at all. Fr. Hardon, who received me into the Church (and who baptized my first two sons), often says that a Catholic must believe in all the Church’s teaching, by definition.

So reactionaries want to wrangle, nitpick, judge – in some cases mock and deride – popes and Ecumenical Councils, as if it is permitted or proper to do so among professed Catholics. Luther judges Councils and popes alike. So do they. The modernists dissent from Humanae Vitae. Reactionaries dissent from Ecclesia Dei and Vatican II, on no basis (ultimately) other than their own private judgment, thus attaining more power and authority in a concrete sense than the pope himself. Trust is placed in mere man or schismatic sects like SSPX, rather than in God’s grace and promises, whereby His Church will withstand the gates of hell (which is what modernism surely is).

I felt that we had to get beyond all the technical distinctions, hair-splitting, and semantics, and get down to brass tacks, fundamental premises, and an examination of first principles. I believe in the Church, because I believe in the God Who established it. I don’t believe it can defect, because Jesus said so, and because history itself more than amply bears this out. I don’t believe that the modernists will ever subvert it (including the “halfway” sense which has been discussed in this ongoing debate). Even most critics of Vatican II — wanting to hang on to indefectibility — seek to maintain a schizophrenic approach that it was “ambiguous,” that it did not espouse heresy, yet its language encouraged it, blah, blah, blah, along with a host of other ludicrous equivocations and rationalizing word games.

Again, I say let the theologians and canon lawyers work through all the technical distinctions of infallibility and Magisterium. They are above my head (as my confessed error at the beginning of this letter demonstrated). Bottom line is: you must accept the teaching of Vatican II and give it even internal assent. [name] acknowledged this above for a second, before proceeding to do precisely the opposite: to posit alleged contradictions of Catholic Tradition. He is convinced that Vatican II erred with regard to religious liberty, among other things:

    I do not think anyone can interpret their way out of this one. Pius IX’s syllabus of errors, to which we owe at least as much obedience and submission of the will as Vatican 2, explicitly condemned the proposition . . .

Very well, then. He believes this. Obviously, the prejudice against the Council runs deep. I am very used to prejudicial bias, leading to irrationality. And I know that it is useless to try to overcome it by logical argumentation. It must be attacked at the root — dug up whole like a weed. Look at all the errors of anti-Catholic Protestants. They engage in a quixotic, tragi-comic crusade against (as Fulton Sheen said) what they think the Catholic Church is. By the same token, I say that reactionaries engage in a futile, wrong-headed, cynical, faith-damaging endeavor to undercut the authority of Vatican II, which I submit that they do not fully understand.

But isn’t it part and parcel of obedience to sometimes accept what we don’t understand? Isn’t that true of a 2-year-old child (my youngest) and their father or mother? Or with all of us and God? Is not any profound tragedy, like the loss of a child or a spouse far more challenging to faith than the supposed “vagueness” and “ambiguity” of Vatican II (assuming for the sake of argument that it is actually present)? And God tells us not to even be surprised by such “fiery ordeals.” Can’t one’s faith in God and His Church overcome such self-generated difficulties of comprehension?

Why would we expect to understand everything fully, anyway (more Protestantism)? We’re talking about mysteries of divine revelation, of the deposit of faith, of the mind of the Church, as directed by the Spirit of God. And we think we can figure all that out without difficulty? Hence the confusion which has followed all Councils. Don’t be duped by the modernist co-opting of Vatican II. Don’t accept their lies about what it taught, or its supposed “spirit.” Believe that God can protect His Church!

Shall the duty of obedience to the magisterium of the Church now be disputed also, and subjected to the death of a thousand qualifications? Are we too sophisticated to submit to the injunction to offer assent to Catholic teaching? Are us apologist-types exempt from it – as if we are still Protestants? I myself will abide by it (and it is not difficult at all for me to do, because I am not plagued and tormented by the doubts and existential agonies of reactionaries). Call that “blind obedience” if you will. Whatever it is, I am honored and privileged to do that – and I’ve been accused by agnostics and critics of Christianity of being gullible and irrational all along. That doesn’t bother me in the least. Such is the lot of faithful Christians. It’s sad, though, when the accusation comes from other Christians.

And all this means that I must cease participation in this discussion, since by continuing I would be tacitly acknowledging that this debate is lawful, legitimate, and edifying. It is not. It has become (or always was) vain disputation. It is ridiculous and tragic to have to argue about Vatican II with fellow Catholics, as opposed to Protestants or Anglicans or Orthodox (who at least are consistent in their objection to it). One can only seek to refute such error and deliberate disobedience. It does not deserve a prolonged consideration. Nothing personal at all, but I think reactionaries need to take a long, hard, serious look at their own underlying presuppositions, and the harmful consequences of them. I hope that what I have written here is a catalyst towards that end.

Related Sources

Catholic Encyclopedia“Infallibility”

Catholic Encyclopedia“General Councils”

The Historical Credibility of Hans Kung, Joseph F. Costanzo, S. J.

Papal Magisterium and Humanae Vitae, Joseph F. Costanzo, S. J.

Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the Professio Fidei, Pope Benedict XVI

Academic Dissent: An Original Ecclesiology, Joseph F. Costanzo, S .J.

What Went Wrong With Vatican II?, Ralph McInerny


(originally 7-30-99. Terminology updated, and a few minor changes made on 7-31-18)

Photo credit: official portrait of Blessed Pope Paul VI (r. 1963-1978), uploaded by BastienM. He is to be canonized in October 2018 [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


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