Dialogue w Timothy Flanders #2: State of Emergency?

Dialogue w Timothy Flanders #2: State of Emergency? February 25, 2020

Timothy S. Flanders is the author of Introduction to the Holy Bible for Traditional Catholics. In 2019 he founded The Meaning of Catholic, a lay apostolate. He holds a degree in classical languages from Grand Valley State University and has done graduate work with the Catholic University of Ukraine. He lives in the Midwest with his wife and four children, and is a regular columnist at the One Peter Five website. Previously, I engaged in two good dialogues with him:

Reply to Timothy Flanders’ Defense of Taylor Marshall [7-8-19]

Dialogue w Ally of Taylor Marshall, Timothy Flanders [7-17-19]

On 1-31-20, he sent me a letter seeking further friendly dialogue and stating that he was “interested in trying to cut through the lack of charity that is dividing faithful Catholics right now” by means of “just a good conversation among brothers.” I responded by writing, “I think it’s a great and commendable idea . . . [to] simply talk like mature adults, minus all the silly insults.” We decided to write articles back and forth: much as we already have. The ones on his end would be published either at One Peter Five or his own website. He wrote: “I’d like to focus the discussion on the issues that have created the divide between “Trads” and “conservatives”, mainly Vatican II and the New Mass.”

Our first installment of this current round of dialogues was entitled, Dialogue w 1P5 Writer Timothy Flanders: Introduction [2-1-20] After further private correspondence, Timothy responded with his post, “Reply to Dave Armstrong 1: Public Rebuke and the State of Emergency” (2-21-20). I now reply to that.

Timothy’s words will be in blue throughout.


Editor’s note: this post is part 1 of a dialogue with Catholic author and blogger Dave Armstrong concerning the crisis in the Church following the Second Vatican Council.

Note that we mustn’t fall into the informal logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc (Latin: “after this, therefore because of this”). Whether Vatican II caused the problems we see remains to be proven; not merely assumed. Traditionalists and reactionaries usually casually (and increasingly) assume that Vatican II is the big bad boogeyman. I just as vehemently disagree, and have provided reasons why in many many papers of mine. It’s an ecumenical council, under the protection and guidance of the Holy Spirit (just as the Jerusalem Council was, as described in Acts 15), and is, as such, a manifestation of the extraordinary magisterium of Holy Mother Church.

Our hope is to pursue charity and truth on these difficult issues, without avoiding the necessary debate among brothers. Dave Armstrong is one of the few Catholic voices who critique the traditionalist view point in print (the other being, to my knowledge, the Likoudis book The Pope, The Mass, and the Council [link).

One ought also to mention in this regard, More Catholic Than The Pope: An Inside Look At Extreme Traditionalism (2004), by my friends Patrick Madrid and canon lawyer Pete Vere. It’s primarily about SSPX (whereas my two — dated 2002 and 2012 — are not), but it touches on all the usual familiar issues in play.

The mission of Meaning of Catholic is to unite Catholics against the enemies of Holy Church. This includes forming alliances with every Catholic who sincerely adheres to the faith, even when, in times of crisis, we come to different conclusions in certain areas. As I have written elsewhere, even the saints disagreed during times like these. Therefore we pursue this dialogue with Mr. Armstrong in an attempt to fulfill that mission. May this be for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls. 

Amen! A worthy goal and a worthy dialogue partner, which is why I am happy to take part in this endeavor.

Dear Dave,

I was pleased to read your post entitled “Definitions: Radical Catholic Reactionaries vs. Mainstream “Traditionalists”, and especially pleased that you used the word “transmogrified” ;).

Glad you liked that and my eccentric word! I was curious, how I used that word. Here is the context from my above article:

13) As for “neo-Catholic” (it is claimed that this term was first used in a radical Catholic reactionary book in 2002): if someone foolishly insists on using the title, then it must be (logically speaking) because it is being used to distinguish oneself from the likes of “[orthodox] Catholics” like me, who have supposedly transmogrified into somehow becoming simultaneously “liberal” and “orthodox” (by the application of this truly silly and nonsensical term). One is either a Catholic or not. A truly “new” (“neo”) Catholic (as if the term and concept can be redefined, willy-nilly) is a dissident or liberal “Catholic”: a new kind of Catholic. But this is an oxymoron, according to the nature of Catholicism.

As we discussed privately, you and I both agree on the Meaning of Catholic confession of faith, except in regards to my post about submitting to Pope Francis with caution. I’m sure we will get into that topic eventually. I’m going to write these responses to you as a letter which appears to me to be the easiest way to progress toward a productive dialogue between us. As I also said, my wife is about to give birth so I make no promises in regards to my own frequency of posting.

Fair enough. Congrats to you and your wife.

Privately, I also took issue with the Immutable Truths about Matrimony of His Excellency Bishop Schneider et al (part of the Meaning of Catholic Confession of Faith):

As for Bp. Schneider’s opposition to Amoris Laetitia, I disagree. From all I have read about it, I think it is harmonious with previous existing tradition.

It seems to be assumed that rare, extraordinary exceptions for people who are not [repeat, not!] “living in sin” are in outright opposition to Catholic moral tradition, and that this is a “foot in the door” of massive planned implementation (much like what is thought of rare exceptions to priestly celibacy). It appears to be a paranoid, conspiratorial-type outlook.

As I usually do in cases of fine distinctions having to do with canon law, etc., I leave the arguments to canon lawyers and theologians to pick through. I’m not qualified. In my collection of defenses of Pope Francis, a search for “Amoris” yields 29 hits. Those articles, taken collectively, would be my “reply”. One article shows how Cardinal Müller believes Amoris Laetitia is in line with previous tradition.

See also two articles by Dr. Robert Fastiggi & Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein [one / two]. Dr. Fastiggi, if you don’t know much about him, is an orthodox systematic theologian, who was an editor / translator of the latest (43rd) version of Denzinger (2012) and also of the revised version of Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (2018).

Timothy then asked me:

You disagree with Schneider’s critique of AL, but do you agree with his affirmation of the positive doctrine of Marriage? If I understand you correctly, you do.

My answer was “yes.” And I clarified:

As always, my critique of what I call “radical Catholic reactionaries” amounts to the following:

1) perpetual bashing of popes (or of Francis in particular, or of all the popes after Pius XII).

2) Bashing of Vatican II as non-binding and somehow fundamentally inferior to other ecumenical councils.

3) Bashing of the Pauline Mass as “objectively inferior” to the Old Mass (directly contrary to Summorum Pontificum); rejection of the “reform of the reform” a la Peter Kwasniewski.

4) Rejection of ecumenism and collapsing of all genuine Catholic ecumenism into relativistic indifferentism.

That’s basically it. The debate is not so much about orthodoxy, as it is about a certain mindset or mentality of “quasi-schism”: which is not formally, canonically schismatic, but constantly “pushes the edges” and gets closer and closer to an SSPX-type of schism.

Thus, by analogy, the debate is a lot more like Augustine’s struggle with the schismatic Donatists rather than with the Pelagians or the Church’s opposition to Arianism or Monophysitism.

Then he asked me to define “bashing”:

Continual negativity; “Pope Francis Derangement Syndrome.” Putting a negative, cynical slant on everything he does, etc. Not being charitable and fair-minded, not giving the benefit of the doubt or attributing good faith.

This he found “reasonable.” So now back to the present dialogue:

As regards dialogue, I normally proceed by asking a lot of questions in order to understand what my interlocutor is saying.

Excellent methodology. I generally do that, too. I’m a socratic at heart.

Instead of posting short questions I’m going to restate what you said and you can clarify if I have misunderstood in some way.

I’m happy to do so; thanks.

First and foremost again, you stated firmly this definition of a Catholic:

Those who accept all the dogmas and doctrines that the Catholic Church teaches are Catholics: period!

I wholeheartedly agree with this. As I said you and I both agree on the aforementioned Confession of Faith.

For the most part: minus aspects I have noted above.

Taking this definition as a starting point, we can add another labeled group to the three you identify in your post, namely, the Modernists. I agree with you that “modernism is the greatest crisis in the history of the Church.” I would identify a Modernist as any Catholic who seeks to overturn any note of doctrine above Sententia Communis and seeks to transform it into something of a different substance. In other words, they do not accept all the dogmas and doctrines but refuse some or all, and then promote heresies or errors against the faith, to their own eternal peril and that of others.

I agree 100%. It’s disgraceful and outrageous. I despised the modernist outlook even in my Protestant days (i.e., within that paradigm; many of the dynamics are the same). I’ve written along these lines:

Catholics Accept All of the Church’s Dogmatic Teaching [National Catholic Register, 9-18-18]
Orthodoxy: The ‘Equilibrium’ That Sets Us Free [National Catholic Register, 3-29-19]
Rightly understood, I would identify the Modernists as the primary “enemies of Holy Church” within the Church itself. Catholics (including bishops) have become Modernists and are promoting Modernism—the synthesis of all heresies—within the Catholic Church. This essentially sums up the crisis in the Catholic Church. Would you agree with this summation?
Yes, but I would add (and here is where we may differ, I think): Satan is now attacking the Church — as he often has in the past — with the spirit of schism (quasi-schism) as well as with heresy: from the theological “right” as well as the “left.” Thus we see increasing numbers who act in important regards like modernists do: they exercise excessive private judgment (also like Protestants) in talking about popes and councils, and they pick and choose what they don’t personally care for in the Church (also very much like Luther and the modernists): the “cafeteria Catholic” mentality.
As an apologist and observer of all three kinds of errors, as a former avid evangelical Protestant, and as a great proponent of analogical argumentation (just as my hero St. Cdl. Newman was, thus you quote him on the analogy of the Arian crisis), I see these patterns all the time and they are very troubling to me. And so I oppose them in writing.
Coming to your general point in the post, I respect and agree with your effort to distinguish between “Catholic” (in the broad sense defined above) and “traditionalist” as opposed to “radical reactionary.” It would seem that what distinguishes the latter group is first a lack of charity for their brethren and piety for the hierarchy.
It’s nice for a change that someone appreciates the thought and work I put into this distinction (it has hardly ever happened). Thanks! I did it precisely so that traditionalists wouldn’t be tarred with a brush that they don’t deserve, and because (as an old sociology major), I think it’s important to differentiate distinct social groups. So I had motives of charity and also a more “academic” sort of intention to properly and constructively analyze different sub-groups within Catholicism.
If I understand you correctly, I agree, but with qualifications (which I will return to below). From my view as I have stated elsewhere, traditionalists do suffer from these vices (turning them into the radical reactionaries) and it is on full display on the internet. One of the most prominent traditionalist priests, Fr. Chad Ripperger, often condemns this lack of virtue as harmful to souls and undermining the cause of Tradition.
I’m glad that you agree. Even Steve Skojec: whom I consider undeniably a radical Catholic reactionary, candidly admitted on his Twitter page, in two tweets on 1-31-20:
After nearly 3 decades online, I’m absolutely convinced that online Catholic behavior is often the worst representation of our faith, & online trads may be worst . . .  People who treat you this way without ever engaging you like a human being are infuriating.
I won’t get into certain ironies of his admitting this . . .

The second characteristic that you identify is a disordered reliance on private judgment. You compare this to the type of thing that passes for authority among Protestants. You provide a quote from St. John Henry Newman describing the Ecclesia Discens as sharply distinguished from the Ecclesia Docens.

There was no room [in the early Church] for private tastes and fancies, no room for private judgment. . . . In the Apostles’ days the peculiarity of faith was submission to a living authority; this is what made it so distinctive; this is what made it an act of submission at all; this is what destroyed private judgment in matters of religion. If you will not look out for a living authority, and will bargain for private judgment, then say at once that you have not Apostolic faith.

Again, I certainly agree with the basic distinction. Taking the first characteristic with the second, it seems that you do allow for a degree of respectful critique for the “big four” (popes, Vatican II, the New Mass, and ecumenism) which presupposes some degree of private judgment.

What many (most?) trads as well as reactionaries habitually, aggravatingly don’t get about me is that I have always (since at least 1997, online) allowed for a small degree of respectful criticism. See, for example:

On Rebuking Popes & Catholic Obedience to Popes (see also, accompanying constructive Facebook discussion) [12-27-17]

Pope-Criticism: Vigorous Exchanges w Karl Keating [3-27-18]

Do I Think Popes Can Never be Criticized for Any Reason? Nope. (I Respectfully Criticize the Prudence of Pope Francis’ Repeated Interviews with an Atheist Who Lies About Him [Eugenio Scalfari]) [3-31-18]

Are Pope-Critics Evil? Reply to Karl Keating [4-13-18]

In summary, my view was perhaps best summarized in this statement of mine from a paper on the topic in 2000:

My point is not that a pope can never be rebuked, nor that they could never be “bad” (a ludicrous opinion), but that an instance of rebuking them ought to be quite rare, exercised with the greatest prudence, and preferably by one who has some significant credentials, which is why I mentioned saints. Many make their excoriating judgments of popes as if they had no more importance or gravity than reeling off a laundry or grocery list.

I reiterated on 1-29-15:

My position is that popes should be accorded the proper respect of their office and criticized rarely, by the right people, in the right spirit, preferably in private Catholic venues, and for the right (and super-important) reasons. Virtually none of those characteristics hold for most of the people moaning about the pope day and night these days.

I’ve lived to see an age where an orthodox Catholic apologist defending the pope (for the right reasons) is regarded as some sort of novelty or alien from another galaxy. Truth is stranger than fiction!

You state that traditionalists accept the validity of the big four but with certain reservations. For my part, I do not identify as a traditionalist as I see the movement having certain issues, but I do generally agree with their critique of the big four.

Duly noted.

The question then becomes, to what degree are reservations or critiques of the big four permissible to remain Catholic, and at what point do they become radical reactionary? 

In my opinion, it’s pretty clear where the line of propriety that I described in my words above from 2000 and 2015 is clearly crossed (and constantly) by radical reactionaries today. It’s not rocket science to see and to confirm that. And we’re not talking mere criticisms of the New Mass and Vatican II, but flat-out rejection (Peter Kwasniewski would be a prime example of this outlook: almost indistinguishable in many ways from SSPX) and now, conspiratorialism in full tilt, with Taylor Marshall’s book and others of similar grave shortcomings.

I don’t have to work very hard (as an observer and critic of these tendencies for now over 20 years), sitting around figuring out who is in which category. The reactionaries, in their ever-increasing extremity, almost always make it very easy for me. There are some people who exhibit less than all four trademarks (e.g., Janet Smith, Karl Keating, Phil Lawler, likely yourself, from what I know so far), but I wouldn’t classify them as reactionaries, anyway; rather, I would say they have tendencies in that direction, or that they are approaching the position, and possibly will embrace it in the future, if they keep moving further right, etc. (because many in the past have undergone the very same trajectory to the ecclesiological right).

I’m here to convey a warning on the dangers of these positions. Very few listen and heed my advice, but what else is new in apologetics?! We’re like baseball umpires: always ticking someone off, and never totally pleasing anyone.

Taking Newman again as a common authority here, he wrote concerning the Arian crisis that the Church experienced a “temporary suspense of the functions of the teaching church” [The Arians of the Fourth Century, Wipf and Stock Publishers: 1996, 254ff]. Despite the indefectibility of the Church, Newman observed that during this crisis the Magisterium was in some way obscured as the majority of bishops (and arguably even the pope) failed to fulfill their duty as the Ecclesia Docens. As a result the Ecclesia Discens was forced to defend the faith and rebuke the bishops in order that the crisis could be overcome.

Yes; I’m very familiar with this historical scenario, as a student of Newman and author of three books of his quotations [one / two / three]. His analogical arguments in his Essay on Development are the biggest reason why I am a Catholic. Right off the bat, I would say that the situation then was incomparably more serious than what we have today: even considering the rot from modernism. That was a Christological heresy in full swing, whereas now we are talking about subtleties of one footnote in Amoris Laetitia and things of that sort. The magnitude of essential difference (using good Newman categories) is exponential.

Moreover, it appears that Newman himself wished to “withdraw” this very statement that you cite. I shall have to treat this at some length (sorry!). Nothing is ever easy and simple with Newman . . .

If we go, then, to Note 5 of the Appendix, which Newman intended to clarify his arguments and intent (38 years later, in 1871), we see that it is entitled, “The Orthodoxy of the Body of the Faithful during the Supremacy of Arianism.” This portion, by the way, is actually a later revision of Newman’s famous 1859 article, On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine. And here he treats the sentence you cite (and related ones) — which were actually from 1859 and not 1833, in the first edition of the book — at length, to show exactly what he meant and expressed imperfectly (hence was misunderstood):

In drawing out this comparison between the conduct of the Catholic Bishops and that of their flocks during the Arian troubles, I must not be understood as intending any conclusion inconsistent with the infallibility of the Ecclesia docens, (that is, the Church when teaching) and with the claim of the Pope and the Bishops to constitute the Church in that aspect. I am led to give this caution, because, for the want of it, I was seriously misunderstood in some quarters on my first writing on the above subject in the Rambler Magazine of May, 1859. But on that occasion I was writing simply historically, not doctrinally, and, while it is historically true, it is in no sense doctrinally false, that a Pope, as a private doctor, and much more Bishops, when not teaching formally, may err, as we find they did err in the fourth century. Pope Liberius might sign a Eusebian formula at Sirmium, and the mass of Bishops at Ariminum or elsewhere, and yet they might, in spite of this error, be infallible in their ex cathedrâ decisions.

The reason of my being misunderstood arose from two or three clauses or expressions which occurred in the course of my remarks, which I should not have used had I anticipated how they would be taken, and which I avail myself of this opportunity to explain and withdraw. First, I will quote the passage which bore a meaning which I certainly did not intend, and then I will note the phrases which seem to have given this meaning to it. It will be seen how little, when those phrases are withdrawn, the sense of the passage, as I intended it, is affected by the withdrawal. I said then:—”It is not a little remarkable, that, though, historically speaking, the fourth century is the age of doctors, illustrated, as it is, by the Saints Athanasius, Hilary, the two Gregories, Basil, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine, (and all those saints bishops also), except one, nevertheless in that very day the Divine tradition committed to the infallible Church was proclaimed and maintained far more by the faithful than by the Episcopate.

“Here of course I must explain:—in saying this then, undoubtedly I am not denying that the great body of the Bishops were in their internal belief orthodox; nor that there were numbers of clergy who stood by the laity and acted as their centres and guides; nor that the laity actually received their faith, in the first instance, from the Bishops and clergy; nor that some portions of the laity were ignorant, and other portions were at length corrupted by the Arian teachers, who got possession of the sees, and ordained an heretical clergy:—but I mean still, that in that time of immense confusion the divine dogma of our Lord’s divinity was proclaimed, enforced, maintained, and (humanly speaking) preserved, far more by the “Ecclesia docta” than by the “Ecclesia docens;” that the body of the Episcopate was unfaithful to its commission, while the body of the laity was faithful to its baptism; that at one time the pope, at other times a patriarchal, metropolitan, or other great see, at other times general councils, said what they should not have said, or did what obscured and compromised revealed truth; while, on the other hand, it was the Christian people, who, under Providence, were the ecclesiastical strength of Athanasius, Hilary, Eusebius of Vercellæ, and other great solitary confessors, who would have failed without them …

“On the one hand, then, I say, that there was a temporary suspense of the functions of the ‘Ecclesia docens.’ The body of Bishops failed in their confession of the faith. They spoke variously, one against another; there was nothing, after Nicæa, of firm, unvarying, consistent testimony, for nearly sixty years …

“We come secondly to the proofs of the fidelity of the laity, and the effectiveness of that fidelity, during that domination of Imperial heresy, to which the foregoing passages have related.”

The three clauses which furnished matter of objection were these:—I said, (1), that “there was a temporary suspense of the functions of the ‘Ecclesia docens;'” (2), that “the body of Bishops failed in their confession of the faith.” (3), that “general councils, &c., said what they should not have said, or did what obscured and compromised revealed truth.”

(1). That “there was a temporary suspense of the functions of the Ecclesia docens” is not true, if by saying so is meant that the Council of Nicæa held in 325 did not sufficiently define and promulgate for all times and all places the dogma of our Lord’s divinity, and that the notoriety of that Council and the voices of its great supporters and maintainers, as Athanasius, Hilary, &c., did not bring home the dogma to the intelligence of the faithful in all parts of Christendom. But what I meant by “suspense” (I did not say “suspension,” purposely,) was only this, that there was no authoritative utterance of the Church’s infallible voice in matter of fact between the Nicene Council, A.D. 325, and the Council of Constantinople, A.D. 381, or, in the words which I actually used, “there was nothing after Nicæa of firm, unvarying, consistent testimony for nearly sixty years.” As writing before the Vatican Definition of 1870, I did not lay stress upon the Roman Councils under Popes Julius and Damasus [Note 3].

(2). That “the body of Bishops failed in their confession of the faith,” p. 17. Here, if the word “body” is used in the sense of the Latin “corpus,” as “corpus” is used in theological treatises, and as it doubtless would be translated for the benefit of readers ignorant of the English language, certainly this would be a heretical statement. But I meant nothing of the kind. I used it in the vague, familiar, genuine sense of which Johnson gives instances in his dictionary, as meaning “the great preponderance,” or, “the mass” of Bishops, viewing them in the main or the gross, as a cumulus of individuals. . . .

(3). That “general councils said what they should not have said, and did what obscured and compromised revealed truth.” Here again the question to be determined is what is meant by the word “general.” If I meant by “general” ecumenical, I should have spoken as no Catholic can speak; but ecumenical Councils there were none between 325 and 381, and so I could not be referring to any; and in matter of fact I used the word “general” in contrast to “ecumenical,” as I had used it in Tract No. 90, and as Bellarmine uses the word. He makes a fourfold division of “general Councils,” viz., those which are approbata; reprobata; partim confirmata, partim reprobata; and nec manifeste probata nec manifeste reprobata. Among the “reprobata” he placed the Arian Councils. They were quite large enough to be called “generalia;” the twin Councils of Seleucia and Ariminum numbering as many as 540 Bishops. When I spoke then of “general councils compromising revealed truth,” I spoke of the Arian or Eusebian Councils, not of the Catholic.

I hope this is enough to observe on this subject.

[Note 3] A distinguished theologian infers from my words that I deny that “the Church is in every time the activum instrumentum docendi.” But I do not admit the fairness of this inference. Distinguo: activum instrumentum docendi virtuale, C. Actuale, N. The Ecumenical Council of 325 was an effective authority in 341, 351, and 359, though at those dates the Arians were in the seats of teaching. Fr. Perrone agrees with me. 1. He reckons the “fidelium sensus” among the “instrumenta traditionis.” (Immac. Concept. p. 139.) 2. He contemplates, nay he instances, the case in which the “sensus fidelium” supplies, as the “instrumentum,” the absence of the other instruments, the magisterium of the Church, as exercised at Nicæa, being always supposed. One of his instances is that of the dogma de visione Dei beatificâ. [my bolding]

All was well at Rome throughout this period; orthodoxy never faltered. In a 1997 paper of mine, I summarized how Rome and western Catholicism dealt with Arianism, compared to the East:

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. 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 347 again upheld Athanasius’ orthodoxy.

A Catholic website noted of the Council of Sardica in 347:

As the Arians still remained obstinate, Pope Julius convinced the Emperors Constans and Constantius to convoke a Council at Sardica in Illiricum. It began in May, 347, and confirmed the decrees of Nicaea, of which it is regarded as an appendix or continuation. It declared St. Athanasius orthodox, and deposed certain Arian Bishops.

The situation was arguably even more dire in the 5th century: when eastern heresy was rampant, while Roman orthodoxy held firm as always. Nothing remotely as bad as this situation is occurring today. St. Cardinal Newman wrote famously about it in his same treatise on development of doctrine:

How was an individual inquirer, or a private Christian to keep the Truth, amid so many rival teachers? . . .

[In the fifth and sixth centuries] the Monophysites had almost the possession of Egypt, and at times of the whole Eastern Church . . .

The divisions at Antioch had thrown the Catholic Church into a remarkable position; there were two Bishops in the See, one in connexion with the East, the other with Egypt and the West with which then was ‘Catholic Communion’? St. Jerome has no doubt on the subject:

Writing to St. [Pope] Damasus, he says,

Since the East tears into pieces the Lord’s coat . . . therefore by me is the chair of Peter to be consulted, and that faith which is praised by the Apostle’s mouth . . . From the Priest I ask the salvation of the victim, from the Shepherd the protection of the sheep . . . I court not the Roman height: I speak with the successor of the Fisherman and the disciple of the Cross. I, who follow none as my chief but Christ, am associated in communion with thy blessedness, that is, with the See of Peter. On that rock the Church is built, I know. [Epistle 15] . . .

Eutyches [a Monophysite] was supported by the Imperial Court, and by Dioscorus the Patriarch of Alexandria . . . A general Council was summoned for the ensuing summer at Ephesus [in 449] . . . It was attended by sixty metropolitans, ten from each of the great divisions of the East; the whole number of bishops assembled amounted to one hundred and thirty-five . . . St. Leo [the Great, Pope], dissatisfied with the measure altogether, nevertheless sent his legates, but with the object . . . of ‘condemning the heresy, and reinstating Eutyches if he retracted’ . . .

The proceedings which followed were of so violent a character, that the Council has gone down to posterity under the name of the Latrocinium or ‘Gang of Robbers.’ Eutyches was honourably acquitted, and his doctrine received . . . which seems to have been the spontaneous act of the assembled Fathers. The proceedings ended by Dioscorus excommunicating the Pope, and the Emperor issuing an edict in approval of the decision of the Council . . .

The Council seems to have been unanimous, with the exception of the Pope’s legates, in the restoration of Eutyches; a more complete decision can hardly be imagined.

It is true the whole number of signatures now extant, one hundred and eight, may seem small out of a thousand, the number of Sees in the East; but the attendance of Councils always bore a representative character. The whole number of East and West was about eighteen hundred, yet the second Ecumenical Council was attended by only one hundred and fifty, which is but a twelfth part of the whole number; the Third Council by about two hundred, or a ninth; the Council of Nicaea itself numbered only three hundred and eighteen Bishops. Moreover, when we look through the names subscribed to the Synodal decision, we find that the misbelief, or misapprehension, or weakness, to which this great offence must be attributed, was no local phenomenon, but the unanimous sin of Bishops in every patriarchate and of every school of the East. Three out of the four patriarchs were in favour of the heresiarch, the fourth being on his trial. Of these Domnus of Antioch and Juvenal of Jerusalem acquitted him, on the ground of his confessing the faith of Nicaea and Ephesus . . . Dioscorus . . . was on this occasion supported by those Churches which had so nobly stood by their patriarch Athanasius in the great Arian conflict. These three Patriarchs were supported by the Exarchs of Ephesus and Caesarea in Cappadocia; and both of these as well as Domnus and Juvenal, were supported in turn by their subordinate Metropolitans. Even the Sees under the influence of Constantinople, which was the remaining sixth division of the East,took part with Eutyches . . .

Such was the state of Eastern Christendom in the year 449; a heresy, appealing to the Fathers, to the Creed, and, above all, to Scripture, was by a general Council, professing to be Ecumenical, received as true in the person of its promulgator. If the East could determine a matter of faith independently of the West, certainly the Monophysite heresy was established as Apostolic truth in all its provinces from Macedonia to Egypt . . .

At length the Imperial Government, . . . came to the conclusion that the only way of restoring peace to the Church was to abandon the Council of Chalcedon. In the year 482 was published the famous ‘Henoticon’ or Pacification of Zeno, in which the Emperor took upon himself to determine a matter of faith. The Henoticon declared that no symbol of faith but that of the Nicene Creed, commonly so called, should be received in the Churches; it anathematized the opposite heresies of Nestorius and Eutyches, and it was silent on the question of the ‘One’ or ‘Two Natures’ after the Incarnation . . . All the Eastern Bishops signed this Imperial formulary. But this unanimity of the East was purchased by a breach with the West; for the Popes cut off the communication between Greeks and Latins for thirty-five years . . .

Dreary and waste was the condition of the Church, and forlorn her prospects, at the period which we have been reviewing . . . There was but one spot in the whole of Christendom, one voice in the whole Episcopate, to which the faithful turned in hope in that miserable day. In the year 493, in the Pontificate of Gelasius, the whole of the East was in the hands of traitors to Chalcedon, and the whole of the West under the tyranny of the open enemies of Nicaea . . .

A formula which the Creed did not contain [Leo’s Tome at the Council of Chalcedon in 451], which the Fathers did not unanimously witness, and which some eminent Saints had almost in set terms opposed, which the whole East refused as a symbol, not once, but twice, patriarch by patriarch, metropolitan by metropolitan, first by the mouth of above a hundred, then by the mouth of above six hundred of its Bishops, and refused upon the grounds of its being an addition to the Creed, was forced upon the Council . . . by the resolution of the Pope of the day . . . (An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 6th edition, 1878, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 1989, 251, 274, 282-3, 285-6, 299-300, 305-6, 319-20, 322, 312)

So I don’t think that this quotation from Newman that you submit (combined with mine) supports your point at all. It has to be interpreted correctly, and then we still have the question of a plausible comparison of today to those trouble times in the 4th century. Even Phil Lawler, no Pope Francis advocate, to be sure, argued quite strongly that it’s not possible to establish heresy in Pope Francis’ teachings, and did so over against the Easter Letter:

To their credit, the authors of the Easter Letter recognize the need for an authoritative statement, for a judgment by the world’s bishops. But if that is their goal, should they not have approached sympathetic bishops privately, quietly, to make their case? Because by taking their arguments to the mass media, they have made it less likely that bishops would support them.

Peter Kwasniewski, one of the principal authors of the letter, now says that the document lists “instances of heresy that cannot be denied.” This, I’m afraid, is a demonstrably false statement. The “instances of heresy” mentioned in the letter have been denied, and repeatedly. The authors of the letter are convinced of their own arguments, but they have not convinced others. In fact they have not convinced me, and if they cannot persuade a sympathetic reader, they are very unlikely to convince a skeptical world. (“Is the Pope a heretic? The danger of asking the wrong question”, Catholic Culture, 5-3-19)

So if even such a major papal critic as Phil Lawler is entirely unconvinced that any heresy is present in Pope Francis at all, does it really make sense to seek to draw a direct analogy to the Arian crisis of the 4th century? Bad analogies will badly backfire. Reactionary Lifesite News noted other critics of the charge of papal heresy:

Canon lawyer Edward Peters makes reference to the “principle of benignity” regarding the interpretation of Pope Francis’ statements, arguing that “if an orthodox interpretation exists for an ambiguous theological assertion, that benign interpretation must be ascribed to the words of the accused.” Others, such as Fr. Thomas Weinandy, a theologian who has suffered much for the cause of protecting the faith during the Francis papacy, and Bishop Athanasius Schneider, a prelate who has worked to correct the confusion caused by Francis’ statements, argue similarly that the pope’s statements are merely ambiguous and may be understood in an orthodox sense.

For more on this issue, see:

Can a Pope Be a Heretic? (Jacob W. Wood,  Crisis Magazine, 3-4-15)

Not heretical: Pope Francis’ approval of the Argentine bishops’ policy on invalid marriages (Dr. Jeff Mirus, Catholic Culture, 9-15-16)

Is Pope Francis a Heretic? (+ Part II) (Tim Staples, Catholic Answers blog, October 3-4, 2016)

Is Pope Francis a Heretic?: Options and Respectful Speculations on the Synod on the Family, Amoris Laetitia and Practical Applications (Dave Armstrong, Biblical Evidence for Catholicism, 12-13-16)

The Heretical Pope Fallacy (Emmet O’Regan, La Stampa / Vatican Insider, 11-12-17)

On Charging a Pope with Heresy (Jimmy Akin, National Catholic Register, 5-2-19)
Some Clarifications Regarding the Open Letter (Jimmy Akin, JimmyAkin.com, 5-3-19)
A Response to Peter Kwasniewski (Jimmy Akin, JimmyAkin.com, 5-4-19)
A Second Response to Peter Kwasniewski (Jimmy Akin, JimmyAkin.com, 5-5-19)
Papal Critics Concede: No Proof of Canonical Papal Heresy (Dave Armstrong, Biblical Evidence for Catholicism, 5-10-19)

Against the rabid impiety of the radical reactionaries, a rebuke of a superior by an inferior can only be undertaken as an act of charity in the manner and circumstances outlined by St. Thomas:

It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Galatians 2:11, “Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.” (II-II q33 a4).

St. Thomas stresses that piety must be observed for superiors, and thus normally a private rebuke is preferred. But in a state of emergency (“if the faith were endangered”) even a public rebuke is necessary because of the “imminent danger of scandal concerning the faith.” Elsewhere Thomas defines scandal as the words or actions which are the occasion of your brother’s spiritual ruin (II-II q43 a1). Thus we may define such a state of emergency as when a Catholic (particularly a cleric) is doing or saying things which become the cause of other Catholics believing heresies in faith or morals, to their own spiritual ruin. In such a case a Catholic “ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly” as an act of charity.

Yes (I would add the examples of St. Dominic, St. Francis of Assisi, and especially St. Catherine of Siena); I rarely disagree with St. Thomas, and edited an abridged Summa, too. But I disagree as to whether we are in such a time. That’s perhaps the fundamental disagreement. Why do I disagree? Well, I would have to appeal to my defenses of Pope Francis (now numbering 162 as of this writing), of Vatican II (probably more than 25 by now), of the New Mass, the “reform of the reform,” and of legitimate, authentic Catholic ecumenism.

In this case the possibility for scandal regarding piety—by a subject rebuking a prelate—is subordinated to a greater scandal regarding the faith. In other words, even though a subject ought not rebuke a prelate in order to avoid leading others into impiety and irreverence for clerics, it is more necessary that the faith be preserved, and so the risk of the lesser scandal is necessary in this case. We might draw an analogy to the Church’s Just War Theory, wherein there is great risk for individual soldiers committing mortal sin, but the overall cause is just because it seeks to avoid a greater evil.

From my view, Newman’s “temporary suspense of the functions of the teaching church” is precisely the case of Thomas’ “imminent danger of scandal concerning the faith.”

If things were so terrible, don’t you think at least one clear, undeniable instance of papal heresy could be proven and agreed upon by all reactionaries and traditionalists and even some plain old “orthodox” types like myself? Instead, we have Phil Lawler writing articles arguing that accusing the pope of heresy is not only factually wrong, but even strategically and tactically dumb in terms of traditionalist / reactionary aims and goals.

So my questions for you are the following:

  1. Do you agree with St. Thomas that a subject ought to rebuke his prelate publicly in a case of imminent scandal to the faith?

Under the very limited conditions I outlined above, yes. I’ve never held an absolute view against such a thing. But almost all of the instances I see today are far, far from those requirements, and what they object to is either non-existent, or something not involving heresy or anti-traditional teaching in the first place. Most of these these endless “corrections” are just reactionary-dominated complaint-fests. I have proven several times now that reactionaries are dominant:

Peter Kwasniewski, Fr. Thomas Kocik and a Growing Chorus Disagree with Pope Benedict XVI Regarding the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite Mass (Or, Reports of the Death of the Reform of the Reform are Greatly Exaggerated)  [+ Part Two] [2-24-14]

Radical Reactionary Affinities in “Filial Correction” Signatories [9-28-17]

Reactionary Influence: Correctio & June 2016 Criticism of the Pope [1-24-18]

Reactionary Signees of Easter “Heresy” Letter (13 of 19) [5-6-19]

Ecclesiological Errors of “Easter Letter” Reactionaries Summed Up (That is, Ones Not Specifically Related to Pope Francis: Especially Vatican II as the Big Bad Wolf) [5-9-19]

Anti-“Pachamama” Doc: “Usual Suspect” Reactionaries Sign [11-14-19]

The dubia were the best of a bad lot. I don’t think there was anything raised there as to indisputable error, but my stated position was that it would have been good for the pope to answer and clarify:

Papal Answers Would Only Help Resolve the Growing Crisis [9-26-17]

I Hope the Pope Will Provide Some Much-Needed Clarity (Re: Answering the Dubia) [National Catholic Register, 9-30-17]

I think clarification is a generally good thing. I know that when I am misunderstood as an apologist, I will clarify ASAP and blow any unfair accusations out of the water. The pope doesn’t look at it that way, which is his right. But in my opinion it would be better and a “net gain” to answer rather than not do so. Dr. Fastiggi has argued that the five dubia are actually answered within Amoris Laetitia itself.

Nor does it help the reactionary / anti-Francis crusade at all, to see Abp. Viganò ranting and raving like a madman: completely unhinged when discussing the Holy Father, nor to see him and Bp. Schneider make frontal attacks on the sublime magisterial authority of Vatican II [see also a second treatment of mine on this topic].

2. Do you agree with St. Newman that in the Arian crisis the Ecclesia Docens was temporarily suspended, and thus this is possible without the Church defecting?

He clarified that in the lengthy excerpts I provided above, from 1871. I don’t think he meant it in the sense that you think he meant, which you consider analogous to the present situation. Nor do I think (whatever Newman meant in that instance) that there is remotely any analogy of today to that time.

3. Do you agree that the “suspension of the Ecclesia Docens” is the “imminent danger of scandal concerning the faith,” thus necessitating extraordinary action on the part of the Ecclesia Discens?

The magisterium is the primary, normative way to deal with such extraordinary circumstances (a few stray bishops aligned with reactionary professors are not that; sorry), but I don’t think we are in such a time in the first place. If you disagree, then show me what heresy the pope has espoused, and show me any sort of consensus agreement as to its existence. Failing that, it seems to me that you have a very weak case.

At its best, the traditionalist movement asserts that such a state of emergency exists. The Magisterium is in some way in suspense regarding the Modernist crisis, necessitating a public rebuke from the laity in order that, like the Arian crisis, the bishops and the pope may eventually set the Church back on track. Then the laity can get back to their lives as Ecclesia Discens and the bishops as Ecclesia Docens. But before we discuss these concrete assertions I think it best that we see if we agree on the three questions above in the abstract.

I’ve answered to the best of my ability. I wish we could agree more than we do, but unfortunately, we will have to work through a lot of details to attain to further agreement in particulars.


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