December 1, 2020

Highlighting Papal Indefectibility, Pastor Aeternus from Vatican I in 1870, & the “Charitable Anathema”

See the previous installments:

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

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

Dialogue w 1P5 Writer Timothy Flanders: Introduction [2-1-20]

Dialogue w Timothy Flanders #2: State of Emergency? [2-25-20]

Is Vatican II Analogous to “Failed” Lateran Council V? [8-11-20]

Dialogue #6 w 1P5 Columnist Timothy Flanders [8-24-20]

Presently, I am replying to Timothy’s article, “Conservative/Trad Dialogue: The Unfruitful Council and Our Agreed Solution” (The Meaning of Catholic, 11-16-20). Timothy’s words will be in blue.

“1P5” = One Peter Five.


Dear Dave,

I was pleased to read your rigorous reply to my critique in your most recent post. God willing, depending on my family and financial situation, I hope to prioritize our dialogue and write more frequently now. I hope that by the prayers of our Lady our conversation will give greater glory to God and serve the salvation of souls.

Great, and that’s a very worthy goal indeed for the purpose of a discussion.

I’m going to proceed from what I consider to be the most important matters in your reply and thus may leave off certain other matters which to my view are less important to the discussion. (The most important matter, however, will be left to the end.) We seem to agree that the present Modernist crisis (“Neo-Modernism” if you like) is more or less the “greatest crisis in the history of the Church.” In this I think we are following your mentor of blessed memory, John Hardon, SJ and my own greatest influence, Dietrich Von Hildebrand as you state.

Yes. I have nine books by Dietrich von Hildebrand in my library and 19 by Fr. Hardon.

Thus if we agree on the problem, we may proceed to find agreement on the cause in order to find a solution. There is remarkable agreement on the solution, however, as I was pleased to discover from your last reply. This suggests it may not be necessary to agree on the cause. But more on that later.

Okay. I’ll wait till later!

A Council Can only “Fail” on the Historical Level

The Trad contention asserts that Vatican II is in some way the cause of the present crisis. I conceded that this cannot be asserted on the ontological level, since acts of the Magisterium (such as Vatican II) cannot per se be said to cause anything evil whatsoever. Nevertheless I contended that even an act of the Magisterium can be a cause in the historical sense, in that it might fail to properly address a situation, or be prevented by evil men from achieving its full fruitfulness. I see this happening throughout history, as each Council is very much the work of God through sinful men, even though saints carry the will of God to conclusion.

I think one can say (and hopefully we agree) that though ecumenical councils are protected by God from theological error and heresy, that it will not necessarily be the case that their proclamations render the ultimate and best possible conceivable treatments of any given issue. This follows primarily and inexorably from the understanding that Catholic doctrine is always developing. Therefore, future proclamations will almost certainly be better in the sense that they are more developed and the product of more time in relation to the ongoing Mind of the Church.

In this sense, orthodox Catholics like myself are particularly fond of Vatican II as a specimen of some of the most developed theology of the Church. It’s not an effort to undermine earlier councils or to make Vatican II uniquely insightful; only to acknowledge the greater fullness of development of doctrine.

After I wrote about the parallels that I see on this point between Lateran V and Vatican II, I came across a quotation from Ratzinger which seemed to adhere to my perspective in this matter. In Principles of Catholic Theology, p. 378, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that, “Not every valid council in the history of the Church has been a fruitful one; in the last analysis, many of them have been a waste of time.” In a footnote, he elaborates: “In this connection, reference is repeatedly made, and with justification, to the Fifth Lateran Council which met from 1512 to 1517 without doing anything effective to prevent the crisis that was happening.”

Lateran V was an act of the Magisterium and cannot be called the direct cause of the crisis. But we may say that it was unfruitful in effectively addressing the crisis. This is my assertion regarding Vatican II specifically for what it did about the existing pastoral approach of the Pian Magisterium. Vatican II did not fail on its ontological level, but only its historical level as I argued previously. Would you agree with Ratzinger’s assertion and concede that a Council can fail in a historical sense but not ontological?

Yes, as I almost always agree with the German Shepherd! But the way that I would put it is that it no doubt could have done better in retrospect, but that what it did produce was excellent and unassailable in its essence; and that, of course, it was hijacked by the liberals. It “failed” only indirectly: insofar as liberal dissidents who lack supernatural faith distorted and lied about it, and thus prevented its full impact from taking place. That’s hardly the fault of the council.

Nor are the wholesale distortions of it (such as, e.g., the false accusation of indifferentism) that are rampant in reactionary circles. Both the theological far left and far right have done their damage to besmirch the genuine council. But hindsight is always 20-20, isn’t it? Problems that have come about in the last 55 years will have to be more ably dealt with in a future council.

The most central aspect of Vatican II was its failure to do that which would have been truly “effective” to prevent the crisis: the charitable anathema. This approach was specifically abandoned by St. John XXIII in his speech about the “medicine of mercy.” This pastoral approach had been used by the Pian Magisterium for generations and the Vatican II Magisterium abandoned it. But this is the approach that we both agree should be renewed as we will discuss below.

Yes, I made it clear last time (citing my words in a paper dated 1-26-19) that I think more magisterial force against error is called for and overdue:

I think a good case can be made now that the traditionalist (not reactionary) complaint that too little was and is being done about heterodoxy and dissenters (and abusers, as it were) in the Church was correct, and that we should have cleaned house long ago. . . .

I say that the Church didn’t do enough, and that’s a large reason why we’re in the mess we’re in. . . . The liberals have been wreaking havoc, and the Church didn’t sufficiently crack down on them.

Basically, I think the Church went a bit too far with the “honey” approach when it became increasingly clear that a good deal of “vinegar” was necessary to apply, for the sake of souls. The sexual scandals in particular make this quite apparent, I think.

The idea that a Council can “fail” can only be understood on some historical level, not on the level of Magisterial action. As you correctly implied, the Council of Nicea might be called a “failure” in these terms until it was “confirmed” by Constantinople I, even though no man can say that God did not act at Nicea and dogmatize binding doctrine.

Again, in this limited sense I agree, and so should, or would, I think, any orthodox Catholic with a working knowledge of Church and conciliar history. The problem is that reactionaries (and often traditionalists) go way too far in their criticisms of Vatican II and wind up arguing almost precisely as Luther, Calvin, and larger Protestantism did. This does the Church no good. The fundamental enemy is disbelief, false belief, and rebellion: inspired by the devil himself: not orthodox councils.

In other words, every Catholic must agree with your assertion: no definitive act of the Magisterium can “contain literal heresy that binds the faithful.” This, you say is “not possible.” I don’t think any Catholic can assert otherwise.


As I have said recently, all the Devil needs to do to destroy the Church is make the Magisterium dogmatize heresy and the Magisterium is compromised and the Church is no more.

But of course we believe that God would not and will never allow such a thing to happen.

I do believe that evil men have invaded the Church (as perhaps you may agree to some extent),

Of course. They’ve always been there since Day One, which is why we see St. Paul repeatedly referencing them. It’s only a matter of degree. There are a lot of them at present.

but I believe they have been unsuccessful in dogmatizing heresy. 

Exactly; and that includes (contrary to all the nattering nabobs of negativism today) all that Pope Francis has proclaimed as binding. No heresy; no false teaching, because Vatican I made clear that this was not possible for popes, either. They are indefectible, as the Church is; in the same sense.

I do not see any text of Vatican II or after which contains a positive error, but the appearance of error or merely ambiguity juxtaposed with prior clarity on a given point.

Well, this is the classic traditionalist / reactionary canard of “ambiguity”: which I have addressed innumerable times in my critiques of the far ecclesiological right.

You critiqued my signing of the Open Letter thanking Vigano for opening the discussion on Vatican II. You made reference to a point in that Open Letter which states that

Such a debate [on Vatican II] cannot start from a conclusion that the Second Vatican Council as a whole and in its parts is per se in continuity with Tradition. Such a pre-condition to a debate prevents critical analysis and argument and only permits the presentation of evidence that supports the conclusion already announced. Whether or not Vatican II can be reconciled with Tradition is the question to be debated…

I would agree these sentences are ambiguous, and these were the only lines in the document that I hesitated to sign on to.


This is because the Open Letter does not specify in what sense they are negating “continuity with Tradition.” The sentence following seemed to clarify that they meant “continuity” in a sense whereby all debate is silenced without discussion. I don’t think any Trad can argue that Vatican II is not in continuity on the ontological level of the Magisterium. That would amount to saying that Vatican II was not an Ecumenical Council at all. Nevertheless, I understood the lines as noting that the ambiguities were introduced by the documents of Vatican II in areas which had previously been made clear by the Magisterium.

Again, this is classic traditionalist / reactionary thinking. I reject it. You say this document was ambiguous about (as you interpret it) supposed conciliar ambiguity. I must say I get a chuckle out of that irony.

Continuity must be Definitively Defined by the Magisterium

This is what I mean by saying that Unitatis Redintegratio (and other such documents) were issued “without reference to the prior documents on this subject.” You point out this document references prior Magisterium and the Holy Scripture. Certainly. But Ecumenism as a movement predates Unitatis Redintegratio by a few generations.

I don’t see sudden and/or rapid doctrinal development as a problem, as long as it is in harmony with existing dogmatic tradition (always an ironclad requirement). The early Church didn’t talk much about, for example, original sin (a binding doctrine today and fundamental to our soteriology), and a host of doctrines started developing very rapidly in the 4th and 5th centuries, including important aspects of trinitarianism, Christology, and Mariology, as well as the communion of saints, transubstantiation, and ecclesiology (including the papacy).

Ecumenism and related issues are easily grounded in Holy Scripture. These things are there. Jesus and St. Paul were big ecumenists, truth be told. St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas wrote about ecumenical topics. The time had come for them to more rapidly develop and play a greater role.

This is not the Church’s first pronouncements on the subject. The Leo XIII issued Satis Cognitum (1896) and Pius XI issued Mortalium Animos (1928) on this subject, expressing the stance of the Church toward Ecumenism. This policy of the Church was not changed until Unitatis Redintegratio. When the policy changed, I assert that Vatican II could have been made more clear by referencing Leo XIII and Pius XI’s documents in Unitatis Redintegratio so that the continuity would be solid from the beginning. Thus, conceivably, the long clarification Dominus Iesus (2000) would have been unnecessary, since the text of 1964 would include, develop and re-affirm the same teachings contained in Leo XIII and Pius XI.

Whatever was “new” was not dogmatic. The Church used to believe in the death penalty for heresy. Now it no longer does. But that was not magisterial, so it could change. And that ties into the freedom of religious conscience. The Church often has to clarify its latest developments. That’s not surprising at all. But it’s all the more necessary due to the liberal distortions of everything. People wrongly think the Church teaches what it does not teach. I just went through one such thing with sedevacantists, two articles ago.

This is what what would normally happen for large “reversals” of policy before Vatican II, as I state in my Hypothesis:

Ven. Pius XII in Divino Afflante Spiritu changes the attitude toward the Vulgate, and thus includes an explanation using distinctions (20ff) in order to correctly understand how his encyclical does not contradict the Council of Trent. Vatican II and the post-conciliar Magisterium often simply ignore prior teachings, leaving the faithful to wonder how they are to be understood in light of prior Magisterium.

Further clarification is always a good thing. It doesn’t have to always be at the time. It can come later, as further events and any significant confusion make it more necessary. Development doesn’t happen all at once. It takes time, by definition.

The fact that Vatican II makes a reversal on major issues without an explanation is admitted by defenders of the Conservative viewpoint. Would you agree that in 1964 this explanation (which came later in Dominus Iesus) may have been more effective in Unitatis Redintegratio some thirty-six years prior? 

Probably, but of course any such clarification wouldn’t have the benefit of knowing the history that occurred between 1964 and 2000. In that sense, the 2000 clarifications were more effective, because they had the historical hindsight.

Indeed, Ratzinger himself wrote in 1966: “A basic unity—of Churches that remain Churches, yet become one Church—must replace the idea of conversion, even though conversion retains its meaningfulness for those in conscience motivated to seek it.”

He was more liberal back then, and that wasn’t magisterial. He changed later on. But there is probably some helpful truth, too, in what he was saying here: if we look at the whole context.

It would seem that by 2000, Ratzinger could reject the concept of “replacing the idea of conversion” when he helped issue Dominus Iesus, which repudiates most doubts as to the necessity of conversion to the Catholic Church for eternal life (even though the dogma of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salvus is still not prominent).

Exactly. He became orthodox when his input was increasingly related to the magisterium. This is how God providentially works things out.

This is what I mean by “failure” and “cause of the crisis” when I speak of Vatican II. It is not unreasonable nor schismatic for the Trad to say that the documents “contain error” in the sense that they “miss the mark” of realizing the Hermeneutic of Continuity within the text.

I don’t see that as “error”; rather, as, perhaps, largely unavoidable “incompleteness” and being less fully developed. It’s a matter of category and terminology. These things can be corrected or better (and more fruitfully) expressed over time. That’s how development works.

This is why numerous theologians petitioned Benedict XVI to clarify crucial parts of continuity after he famously coined the phrase, but the faithful were given no answer.

Ah, so they were giving him a hard time, too, just as they do with Pope Francis. Interesting. It looks like it’s probably the same old [reactionary] suspects: as I have noted with many of these critical statements. The very first one mentioned is Paolo Pasqualucci: whose errors about Vatican II I have refuted twelve times. And it wasn’t hard to do at all. Roberto de Mattei is fourth on the list. I refuted his falsehoods about Gaudium Et Spes and procreation. If they are starting with false premises, then I can see why Pope Benedict XVI didn’t waste his time replying to them. It can be left to apologists like me. :-)

I assert that the Magisterium has a duty to issue a definitive document which demonstrates the Hermeneutic of Continuity on all of the disputed points between the Pian Magisterium and the Vatican II Magisterium. But Ratzinger himself says that Gaudium et Spes and other documents play “the role of a counter-Syllabus to the measure that it represents an attempt to officially reconcile the Church with the world as it had become after 1789.”[2] I assert that the current Magisterium has the duty to reconcile the Church to its own prior Pian Magisterium. I have argued this in more detail in another place.

I might agree in principle: at least in part. I’d have to see the particulars. But if it’s the same old wives’ tales, then I wouldn’t necessarily agree if the false premise was blatant and unserious.

Did Vatican I Dogmatize Pighius?

You have countered my assertions by stating that any concept of error contained in a Magisterial Act is contrary to the First Vatican Council which you quote at length. You seem to assert that Vatican I dogmatized Pighius’ sententia regarding a heretical pope. His opinion was that a pope can never be a heretical [sic]. It is simply impossible. This was the opinion defended by Bellarmine, which he says is sententia probabilis in his famous passage on the five opinions on the question of a heretical pope. You seem to assert that Vatican I raised this sententia from probabilis to de fide at Vatican I. Please clarify if I’ve misunderstood you.

That is approximately Dr. Robert Fastiggi’s opinion, and I got this opinion from him (in fact, after he expressed it forcefully on your own webcast). I either didn’t realize it was in Vatican I or had forgotten it. He would be in a position to know, as editor and translator of the latest Denzinger and also the revision of Ludwig Ott. I think we can trust his scholarly authority on this, and the conciliar text seems utterly clear and unambiguous to me. Not that I claim to be any sort of expert on it . . . But the council adopted Bellarmine’s view on one point, not that of Pighius (which Bellarmine partially disagreed with), as Bishop Gasser clarified in his Relatio in 1870. More on that below.

This assertion, however, cannot be proved by simply quoting the passage you did from Vatican I. The phrases you bolded have been used by the Holy See for centuries, and known to the same theologians who argued against Pighius, and continued to do so after 1870. (I am relying here on the work of Mr. Ryan Grant, Bellarmine’s foremost English translator.) Ott even seems to say otherwise when he talks about the decisions of the Holy See:

The ordinary and usual form of Papal teaching activity is not infallible[.] … Nevertheless they are normally to be accepted with an inner assent which is based on the high supernatural authority of the Holy See (assensus religiosus). The so-called silentium obsequiosum, i.e. reverent silence, does not generally suffice. By way of exception, the obligation of inner assent 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.[3]

It’s apparent (in the second word) that Ott is talking about the ordinary magisterium there. But Pastor aeternus is referring to the extraordinary magisterium:

. . . matters concerning the faith. This was to ensure that any damage suffered by the faith should be repaired in that place above all where the faith can know no failing. (Ch., 4, 4) . . .

For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles. Indeed, their apostolic teaching was embraced by all the venerable fathers and reverenced and followed by all the holy orthodox doctors, for they knew very well that this See of St. Peter always remains unblemished by any error, . . . (Ch. 4, 6)

These portions lead up to the famous climax which defines papal infallibility. The preceding sections obviously refer in context to the same sort of thing: the highest levels of infallibility.

Since (ultimately) the particular canonical aspects of this matter are above my pay grade, I wrote to Dr. Fastiggi and he sent me three short articles he wrote about Cardinal Bellarmine and conciliar and papal indefectibility, and a long one about the larger topic, from a talk he presented in about 2003 (personally approved of by Cardinal Dulles, who was in attendance). He wrote about the question of papal statements that are part of the ordinary magisterium:

[T]eachings of the extraordinary papal magisterium are infallible as well as definitive judgments by the Pope. The question of the possibility of error in ordinary papal teachings is a delicate matter. In my article I cite Vatican I’s affirmation that “in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been preserved immaculate and sacred doctrine honored” (Denz.-H, 3066) and the “See of St. Peter always remains untainted by any error” (Denz.-H, 3070). Ordinary teachings of the papal magisterium are not definitive, and they are subject revision or reform. This is why the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its 1990 instruction, Donum Veritatis, speaks of such magisterial teachings as pertaining to matters “per se not irreformable.” If a papal teaching is not irreformable, it is subject to revision or change. For example, Pope Innocent I in 405 allowed for the use of juridical torture by Christian magistrates. Nicholas I, however, in 866 taught that neither divine nor human law allows such torture (cf. Denz.-H, 648). Innocent IV, however, approved the use of torture by the Inquisition in 1252. In 1993, though, John Paul II included torture among the acts which are intrinsically evil (Veritatis Splendor, no. 80). We can look back and say that Popes Innocent I and Innocent IV were in error about torture, but they were not opposing any definitive teaching on the subject at the times when they made their judgments. Their judgments were not irreformable, and when they made these judgments they were not opposing any settled truths of the faith.

It would take a long time to deal with all these matters in the depth they deserve, but these are some basic responses . . . 

The divine protection of the pope that the Church adheres to clearly doesn’t include everything the pope proclaims. Hence, even though I have defended Pope Francis 178 times, I freely disagreed with him on several political matters when I commented (otherwise glowingly) on Fratelli tutti. And that’s because his opinion on political matters is not magisterial and has no binding authority. It’s not his domain (not in the fullest authoritative sense). He himself made clear that his opinions on science can also be disagreed with, in his encyclical Laudato si, and sure enough, in-between my almost endless praise of it, I respectfully disagreed with the Holy Father on nuclear energy and global warning.

In order to prove your assertion, you would need to show that Vatican I intended to address the well-known discussion on heretical popes and make a definitive pronouncement on this subject. However, the assertions of these theologians mentioned by Bellarmine and held by others before and after the Council are not addressed anywhere. 

The council is under no obligation to do so, though I suspect in the discussions about the documents, those things were brought up.

Moreover, as Mr. Grant mentions in the above-linked discussion, the Acta show that the Council Fathers discussed whether to define one of the sententiae on the subject, but declined to do so.

You seem to assert that the dogma of indefectibility hinges on an alleged dogma of Pighius’ sententia, but this has not been proven. A good point to strengthen your case would be prove that Bellarmine (who held to Pighius) believed that if Pighius was wrong, then indefectibility was compromised. But this seems a tenuous claim, since he admits the other sententiae besides Pighius, and never accuses these others as compromising indefectibility.

I assert that the sententiae mentioned by Bellarmine have not been defined by the Magisterium. The most we can say about them is that one of them may be more probable than the others, but none of them can be said to be sententia communis, before or after Vatican I. I have not seen any evidence to the contrary, but as always I’m willing to be corrected.

Von Hildebrand Agreed with Davies on Vatican II

You assert that Deitrich Von Hildebrand “loved” Vatican II. It is true that in his first two books on the crisis you quote in your linked article, he made no direct critique of Vatican II but seems to place all the blame on the liberal interpreters of the same. To this I would not disagree in principle as I have said, but I do not say those who follow Lefebvre’s opinion of the Council are acting schismatically nor irrationally, since Vatican I did not dogmatize Pighius or your assertion about indefectibility.

I shall now happily yield to Dr. Fastiggi’s scholarly knowledge of dogmatics in order to present a full and adequate reply to your challenge. In one of his papers that I already cited above, he mentioned relevant magisterial material in Denzinger 3066 and 3070. He also referred in his personal letter to me, to “the indefectibility of Catholic doctrine under the special charism of truth and never-failing faith of the successor of Peter (D-H, 3071).”

Here is Denzinger 3071, from Pastor aeternus: from the latest revision (a copy of which always sits immediately to the right of my writing desk):

Now this charism of truth and of never-failing faith was conferred upon Peter and his successors in this chair in order that they might perform their supreme office for the salvation of all; that by them the whole flock of Christ might be kept away from the poisonous bait of error and be nourished by the food of heavenly doctrine; that, the occasion of schism being removed, the whole Church might be preserved as one and, resting on her foundation, might stand stand firm against the gates of hell.

For comparison’s sake, here is the translation from chapter 4, section 7, from the version of Pastor aeternus online at EWTN:

This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this See so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine. Thus the tendency to schism is removed and the whole Church is preserved in unity, and, resting on its foundation, can stand firm against the gates of hell.

In another paper of his, Dr. Fastiggi stated, regarding Bellarmine and Suárez:

What these two Jesuit theologians believed could not happen was confirmed by Vatican I’s affirmation of the “charism of truth and of never-failing faith” conferred upon Peter and his successors” (Denz.-H, 3071). We need to thank God for this charism given to Peter and his successors and have faith it this special charism. 

Dr. Fastiggi’s paper from his 2003 talk is entitled, “The Petrine Ministry and the Indefectibility of the Church.” It was eventually published in Called to Holiness and Communion: Vatican II on The Church (edited by Fr. Steven Boguslawski, O.P. and Robert Fastiggi, Ph.D., University of Scranton Press, 2009). In it, he stated:

In the post-Tridentine era, theologians such as Bellarmine (1542-1621) and Suárez (1548-1617) affirm both the indefectibility of the Church as a whole and the necessity of the Petrine office for maintaining this indefectibility in doctrine. . . . 

The Doctor Eximius [Suárez] [91] likewise upholds the indispensability of the Petrine office for the Church’s indefectibility. He observes that “the Roman Church” can refer either to the particular Church of Rome or to the See of the Roman Pontiff who, when assuming the posture of the teacher of the universal Church, can never err or depart from the faith. [92] For this reason, “the faith of the Roman Church is the Catholic faith, and the Roman Church has never departed from this faith nor could she ever so depart because the chair of Peter presides over her.” [93] . . . 

To be sure, the Petrine ministry is not the only means for insuring ecclesial unity. Much could also be said about the indispensable role of Mary who is “intimately united to the Church” [186] and who cares for the faithful “by her maternal charity.” [187] The central point of this essay, however, is that the Petrine office is essential to the indefectible structure of the Catholic Church. As a “visible source and foundation” [188] of ecclesial communion, the Roman Pontiff fulfills a divinely ordained service of unity. Without the Petrine ministry, the Church would be lacking an essential aspect of what Christ willed for His Church on earth. Without the Petrine office, the Church ceases to be indefectible.


91 Pope Paul V (r. 1605-1621) bestowed upon Suárez the title of Doctor Eximius, the Exceptional or Uncommon Doctor.

92 Cf. Suárez, Defensio Fidei Catholicae Adversus Anglicanae Sectae Errores, chap. 5, no. 5-6 in Vivès ed., vol. 24, 21-22.

93  Ibid., chap. 5, no. 7; Vivès, vol. 24, 22. 

[ . . . ]

186 Lumen gentium, 63

187 Ibid., 62.

188 Ibid., 18.

In his correspondence with me, he also recommended an article by Ron Conte, noting that he didn’t “always agree” with Ron (nor do I), but that “he understands papal authority and indefectibility very well.” InBellarmine, Taylor Marshall, and Ryan Grant on Papal Faith” (8-1-20), Ron commented:

First, a review of what Bellarmine says.

In the book On the Roman Pontiff, book 2, chapter 30, Saint Robert Bellarmine considers a proposition called “the tenth argument”.

“The tenth argument. A Pope can be judged and deposed by the Church in the case of heresy; as is clear from Dist. 40, can. Si Papa: therefore, the Pontiff is subject to human judgment, at least in some case.”

He begins by saying there are five opinions on the matter.

1. “The first is of Albert Pighius, who contends that the Pope cannot be a heretic, and hence would not be deposed in any case: such an opinion is probable, and can easily be defended, as we will show in its proper place.”

This opinion was that of Saint Robert Bellarmine as well as Pighius, and it was adopted and confirmed . . . by the First Vatican Council. When Bishop Vincent Gasser, in his relatio before the Council, says that the Council adopted the opinion of Bellarmine, not any extreme opinion of Pighius and his school, he means this opinion, where Bellarmine and Pighius happen to agree. . . . 

And now we come to the fifth opinion, like the first, accepted by Bellarmine. But this fifth opinion is only “the fifth true opinion” if it is the case that Popes can commit or teach heresy. Bellarmine thinks that God does not permit this. He says the first opinion, that Popes cannot teach or commit heresy is probable and easily defended. And since this fifth opinion is predicated on a Pope being heretical, something excluded by Vatican I, it is only an intellectual exercise. One cannot base an accusation against Pope Francis on this fifth opinion.

Marshall and Grant

Dr. Taylor Marshall and Ryan Grant discuss Bellarmine on whether a Pope can be a heretic, in this video. Let’s consider what they say.

Taylor Marshall and Ryan Grant opine that a manifestly heretical Pope could be deposed by an Ecumenical Council. They note that the “first opinion” is the one held by Bellarmine, that a Pope cannot teach or commit heresy. This opinion is dismissed by them, in a common but erroneous manner, by accusing various Popes of grave failures of faith, including Honorius, John 22, and Marcellinus.

The enemies of the Church accused Pope Marcellinus of apostasy, of sacrificing to the pagan gods, which would be a grave sin against faith, even if under duress. But this is also the type of sin which the grace of God prevents. For if the Rock on which the Church is founded, whose faith is never failing, could, even exteriorly and under duress, worship pagan gods, the Church would not be indefectible. For many souls would be lost, following this example of the Pope. Therefore, based on the teaching of Vatican I, we must conclude that Marcellinus was innocent. See my previous post. He was falsely accused by the enemies of the Church, as a way to convince his flock to behave similarly. The fact that this Pope was a Saint who died a martyr, rather than worship pagan gods, is also proof of his innocence. The story that he worshipped false gods exteriorly, repented, and then died rather than commit the same act again is fiction.

But when Marcellinus was accused, he offered to be judged by an Ecumenical Council. Yet the Cardinals and Bishops refused to judge him, saying: “For the first See is not judged by anyone.” And his innocence is defended in this article in the old Catholic Encyclopedia. It is impossible that Marcellinus committed the grave sins against faith of which he is accused, as it is contrary to . . . Vatican I. And even from a mere human perspective, the accusations are untrustworthy and the account clearly spurious.

So Marshall and Grant err gravely by using their own fallible opinions to judge and condemn past Popes for grave sins against faith. Basing a theological opinion on a prudential judgment is a weak argument.

It is interesting to note that, before Vatican I declared the never failing faith of the Pope, they considered the past history of the Popes, looking for any Pope who failed in faith. They found none. Honorius was rather easily defended, as Cardinal Manning states. And the same was true for the other Popes. And the fathers of that Council were well aware of the writings of Bellarmine defending the Popes against accusations of failure of faith. Since the Council did not find any Popes guilty of heresy, this is further proof that the Council intended to define that Popes cannot commit heresy.

The First Vatican Council phrased this . . . in positive terms, that each Pope has a charism from God of truth and a never-failing faith. This is better than merely saying that Popes do not commit heresy and do not teach heresy; it is a fuller statement which includes the negative, but also includes the positive gift. The Pope has a charism from God ordered inexorably toward truth and faith. Unfailing in truth. Unfailing in faith. That is the Vicar of Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit.

But Marshall and Grant err gravely by claiming that the First Vatican Council did not deal with the question of whether a Pope could commit or teach heresy. Grant states: “the Magisterium of the Church punted on the issue, refused to define it….” But if that is true, Mr. Grant, then what is the meaning of this charism of truth and a never failing faith? Grant ignores the teaching entirely. He gives no explanation. . . . 

[I]f Grant believes that Vatican I did not decide the question of whether Popes can teach heresy, what does he think “this charism of truth and never failing faith” means? How can a Pope have a divinely conferred charism of truth and never failing faith, and also teach material heresy and commit formal heresy? Grant does not address the question. This is typical of the papal accusers. . . . 

Teaching heresy from the Chair of Peter is an exceedingly grave failure of faith. It would do grave harm to the indefectibility of the Church. And so the grace of God does not permit this to happen.

The never failing faith of the Pope, the definition of Vatican I, certainly implies that the Pope cannot be a heretic, as then his faith would have failed. Also, the teaching that each Pope has the gift of truth implies that he cannot teach heresy. For material heresy is contrary to truth and formal heresy is contrary to a never failing faith. Thus the gift of truth and never failing faith utterly prevents any type of heresy, material or formal, in any valid Roman Pontiff. . . . 

Consider the following argument. (1) If a Pope commits heresy, he would be automatically cut off from the Church and would lose his authority. (2) If God permits Popes to commit heresy, then the faithful would not know which Popes were valid and which teachings to believe. (3) Not knowing which teachings to believe, makes it all the more difficult to determine which Popes have committed heresy. (4) Councils are only valid if approved by a valid Pope. (5) Not knowing which Popes are valid causes us to not know which Councils are valid. (6) The end of this process is that the faithful would have no way to know which Popes and Councils were valid and which teachings to believe. They would be like lost sheep, and the Church would utterly lose Her indefectibility. (7) Therefore, God does not permit Popes to commit heresy.

The argument is predicated on the true premise that IF a Pope commits heresy, he is no longer the valid Pope. So the proposition is true, in the abstract, but also counter-factual. It is like the assertion: If Christ has not risen, then our faith is in vain. Christ has risen. But it is still true that IF He has not risen, then our faith would be in vain.

Marshall and Grant unfortunately take opinion five as if it were factual, as if a Pope could teach or commit heresy, and be deposed by an Ecumenical Council. This is not possible, as the Roman Pontiff is above the authority of an Ecumenical Council. . . . 

Since the Roman Pontiff governs the whole Church, he also governs the body of Bishops and any Ecumenical Councils. This implies that Councils may not depose a Pope.

“Since the Roman pontiff, by the divine right of the apostolic primacy, governs the whole church, we likewise teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all cases which fall under ecclesiastical jurisdiction recourse may be had to his judgment. The sentence of the apostolic see (than which there is no higher authority) is not subject to revision by anyone, nor may anyone lawfully pass judgment thereupon. And so they stray from the genuine path of truth who maintain that it is lawful to appeal from the judgments of the Roman pontiffs to an ecumenical council as if this were an authority superior to the Roman pontiff.” [Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus, chapter 3, n. 8] . . . 

I am a fan of Ryan Grant’s work. Grant’s contribution to scholarship is invaluable to the Church. But he is not a competent theologian. The ability to understand and write theology is a gift. No matter how intelligent you may be, if you don’t have that gift, then you will not be a good theologian. Despite Grant’s own admission that he is not a theologian, he delves into theology by implying that a Pope can be a heretic and can be deposed by an Ecumenical Council.

Bishop Vincent Gasser, in his famous Relatio on infallibility at Vatican I, noted:

As far as the doctrine set forth in the Draft goes, the Deputation is unjustly accused of wanting to raise an extreme opinion, viz., that of Albert Pighius, to the dignity of a dogma.  For the opinion of Albert Pighius, which Bellarmine indeed calls pious and probable, was that the Pope, as an individual person or a private teacher, was able to err from a type of ignorance but was never able to fall into heresy or teach heresy.  To say nothing of the other points, let me say that this is clear from the very words of Bellarmine, both in the citation made by the reverend speaker and also from Bellarmine himself who, in book 4, chapter VI, pronounces on the opinion of Pighius in the following words: “It can be believed probably and piously that the supreme Pontiff is not only not able to err as Pontiff but that even as a particular person he is not able to be heretical, by pertinaciously believing something contrary to the faith.”  From this, it appears that the doctrine in the proposed chapter is not that of Albert Pighius or the extreme opinion of any school, but rather that it is one and the same which Bellarmine teaches in the place cited by the reverend speaker and which Bellarmine adduces in the fourth place and calls most certain and assured, or rather, correcting himself, the most common and certain opinion. (section 40)

You wrote: “Vatican I did not dogmatize Pighius or your assertion about indefectibility.” It adopted one portion of St. Robert Bellarmine‘s argument that agreed only in part with Pighius, and disagreed in part. That it in fact asserted and confirmed the notion that the pope could not ever bind the Church to error or heresy, is, to me, quite clear also in the inexorable logic (or logical result) of the wording: about which Ron Conte drives home the point in, I think, devastating and unanswerable fashion.

If you or my friend Ryan Grant, or Dr. Taylor Marshall disagree with Ron’s take, then by all means, take a shot at refuting it. I think you will end up in a tangled mess of self-contradiction. Something to seriously ponder, for sure . . . Dr. Fastiggi summarizes the clear Church teaching in this regard:

Any well-formed Catholic knows how essential the papacy is for the Catholic Church. To be a Catholic is to be in communion with the Roman Pontiff. Vatican II teaches that those fully incorporated in the Church “are united with her as part of her visible bodily structure and through her with Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops” (Lumen gentium, 14). The authority of the pope comes from Christ, and it is divinely protected. Vatican I clearly teaches that “the See of St. Peter always remains untainted by any error according to the divine promise of our Lord and Savior made to the prince of his disciples” (Denz.-H 3070; cf. Lk 22:32). This means that Christ and the Holy Spirit will insure that “in the Apostolic See” the Catholic religion will “always be preserved immaculate and sacred doctrine honored” (Denz.-H 3066; cf. the formula of Pope Hormisdas; Denz.-H 363–365). . . . 

Popes, of course, can make mistakes in their prudential judgments, and they are liable to sin in their personal lives. Although popes teach with authority, not all of their doctrinal judgments are irreformable. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [CDF], in its 1990 instruction, Donum veritatis, acknowledged as much. . . . 

Pope Francis has admitted his mistakes in regard to sex abuse in Chile, and he has also expressed his openness to constructive criticism. Some critics of Francis, however, go beyond constructive criticism and try to undermine his moral and doctrinal authority at every turn. . . . 

Although prudential papal judgments require attentive consideration, papal teachings on faith and morals must be adhered to with “religious submission of mind and will” even when the pope is not speaking ex cathedra. (Lumen gentium 25). This religious submission “must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence,” and “the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will” (Lumen gentium 25). Many papal critics, however, fail to manifest proper reverence toward Pope Francis’s teaching authority. They appear to trust their own judgments more than they trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the successor of Peter. (“Pope Francis and Papal Authority under Attack”, La Stampa / Vatican Insider, 2-18-19)

First, it should be noted that Von Hildebrand was completely opposed to the New Mass. In the work you cite in your article on him, he also said this: “The new liturgy is without splendor, flattened, and undifferentiated…truly, if one of the devils in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters had been entrusted with the ruin of the liturgy, he could not have done it better.”[4] His critique was against the Latin text and rubrics of the New Mass, not merely its implementation. Therefore he wrote “I hope and pray…that in the future the Tridentine Mass will be reinstated as the official liturgy of the holy Mass in the Western Church.”[5] As you point out, he stated that a Catholic must obey these orders regarding the New Mass but he can lawfully advocate for the reversal of these orders as he himself did. Would you call him a reactionary on these grounds? Would you disagree that a Catholic can lawfully advocate what Von Hildebrand advocated using his reasons?

My definition of “reactionary” has four planks, so I can’t say until I found out what he thought about all of those. He seems to have a mixed record, or turned increasingly against the Pauline Mass over time. I would hold that a pious, obedient Catholic could have the opinion that the Tridentine Mass is at least equally as “good” (as a personal choice for preferred worship) as the ordinary form Mass. But this is now a moot point since Pope Benedict in 2007 declared them on equal ground in that respect and gave any Catholic the freedom to worship as he pleases. It’s the scandalous trashing of the ordinary form Mass which is contrary to Pope Benedict and Holy Mother Church.

And so I follow the German Shepherd, and not those like Peter Kwasniewski (or Dietrich von Hildebrand, insofar as he trashed the Mass itself and not just its abuses). We mustn’t follow any non-magisterial Catholic, no matter how noble and profound, if they clash with the magisterium. I even disagreed with Fr. Hardon regarding the Catholic charismatic movement. He didn’t care for it, but the Church has decreed otherwise (or has at the very least, not condemned it: only excesses within it). I also disagreed with him on one particular analogical Mariological argument. He didn’t like it, but Doctors of the Church used it, and so I had to respectfully defer to their greater authority and example. I brought this up to him on the phone one time (the Doctors part) but he would have none of it.

Turning back to the subject of Vatican II itself, Von Hildebrand stated this regarding its authority:

The Second Vatican Council solemnly declared in its Constitution on the Church that all the teachings of the Council are in full continuity with the teachings of former councils. Moreover, let us not forget that the canons of the Council of Trent and Vatican Council I are de fide, whereas none of the decrees of Vatican II is de fide; the Second Vatican Council was pastoral in nature. Cardinal Felici rightly stated that the Credo solemnly proclaimed by Pope Paul VI at the end of the Year of Faith [1968] is from a dogmatic point of view much more important than the entire Second Vatican Council. Thus, those who want to interpret certain passages in the documents of Vatican II as if they implicitly contradicted definitions of Vatican I or the Council of Trent should realize that even if their interpretation were right, the canons of the former councils would overrule these allegedly contradictory passages of Vatican II, because the former are de fide, the latter not. (It must be stressed that any such “conflict” would be, of course, apparent and not real.)[6]

Here Von Hildebrand sets the Council as lower in authority than the prior Councils on the dogmatic level. Would you agree with his principles here? 

There are different levels of infallibility and authority involved in different documents, but as an ecumenical council, its authority is the same as Trent, as Cardinal Ratzinger stated in 1985. He wrote:

Vatican II is in the strictest continuity with both previous councils and incorporates their texts word for word in decisive points . . .

Whoever accepts Vatican II, as it has clearly expressed and understood itself, at the same time accepts the whole binding tradition of the Catholic Church, particularly also the two previous councils . . . It is likewise impossible to decide in favor of Trent and Vatican I but against Vatican II. Whoever denies Vatican II denies the authority that upholds the other two councils and thereby detaches them from their foundation. And this applies to the so-called ‘traditionalism,’ also in its extreme forms. Every partisan choice destroys the whole (the very history of the Church) which can exist only as an indivisible unity.

To defend the true tradition of the Church today means to defend the Council.

So to the extent that von Hildebrand disagrees with this, I disagree with him. In his paper, “St. Robert Bellarmine on whether ecumenical councils can err”: sent to me last night by Dr. Fastiggi, he observed (this is the complete paper):

St. Robert Bellarmine, at the end of De conciliis, Liber II, chapter IX says “we hold by Catholic faith that legitimate councils confirmed by the Supreme Pontiff cannot err” (ex fide Catholica habeamus concilia legitima a Summo Pontifice confirmata non posse errare).

Earlier in De conciliis, Liber II, chapter II, Bellarmine makes this point: “A general Council represents the universal Church, and hence has the consensus of the universal Church; wherefore if the Church cannot err, neither can a legitimate and approved ecumenical Council err (Concilium generale repraesentat Ecclesiam universam, et proinde consensus habet Ecclesiam universalis; quare si Ecclesia non potest errare, neque Concilium oecumenicum legitimum, et approbatum potest errare). 

Bellarmine here is speaking of matters of faith and morals. Some teachings of ecumenical councils, especially on matters of discipline, have been superseded, let go, or revised. Rather than speak of such teachings as errors, I believe it’s more accurate to say these were teachings that were not per se irreformable. Some theologians believe that if teachings are not per se infallible, they are, therefore, liable to error. I would rather speak of them as non-irreformable, which is the way the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith speaks of them in numbers 24 and 28 of its 1990 instruction, Donum Veritatis.

It’s possible that ecumenical councils can make judgments on contingent or historical matters that are subject to qualification or correction. For example, Fr. Ludwig Ott, in Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Baronius Press, 2018, p. 162) states that the Sixth General Council” (Constantinople III) “wrongly condemned [Honorius I] as a heretic.” Fr. Ott then notes that, when Pope Leo II (682-683) confirmed the condemnation of Honorius I, he did so because of Honorius’ negligence rather than heresy. Ecumenical councils can teach infallibly on matters of faith and morals. Whether Honorius I actually held to the Monothelite heresy is a matter of history not faith and morals.

I hold to the position of Bellarmine. Legitimate ecumenical councils confirmed by the Roman Pontiff cannot err in matters of faith and morals. They can, however, make judgments on discipline, history, or open theological questions that are not per se irreformable. In other words, they are subject to revision or qualification. To speak of such judgments as “errors” is not, in my view, accurate.

The traditionalist is responding to the imposition of at least an apparent break with Tradition. He sees, for example, the advocacy by popes of America-style religious liberty on the basis of Dignitatus Humanae, an advocacy which contradicts prior teaching that he believes to be de fide. Therefore he appeals to the Holy See, as the aforementioned theologians did with Benedict (or the Dubia Cardinals did with Francis) and does not receive a reply. Therefore, according to Von Hildebrand’s principles here, if he receives no answer, he must ignore Vatican II and hold to the de fide teaching from prior Magisterium. Traditionalists appeal to the Holy See and are ready to obey when this definitive definition is proclaimed. And this is where we may find agreement, as I will say below.

I don’t see any such break with prior binding magisterial tradition, as I argued in this paper (vs. Pasqualucci):

#9: Dignitatis Humanae & Religious Liberty [7-18-19]

But ultimately, it appears that Von Hildebrand agreed with Michael Davies’ critique of Vatican II. Mr. Davies read Hildebrand’s words you quoted about Vatican II, and sent him a copy of his critical work on the Council. After Von Hildebrand read it, he wrote back and said concerning Davies’ work that he is “completely satisfied.” He praised Davies’ open letter in opposition to a bishop: “Thank you for writing it.” He said further concerning the Council, consistent with his principles quoted above:

I consider the Council—notwithstanding the fact that it brought some ameliorations—as a great misfortune. And I stress time and again in lectures and articles that fortunately no word of the Council—unless it is a repetition of former definitions de fide—is binding de fide. We need not approve; on the contrary we should disapprove. Unfortunately Maritain said in his last book: the two great manifestations of the Holy Spirit in our times are Vatican Council II and the foundation of the state of Israel.

Then I disagree with him. He’s not the magisterium. He’s just a man, however great.

I don’t think even Lefebvre would disagree with Von Hildebrand’s praise of the Council in comparison to the teachings of the liberal heretics he was attacking. Nevertheless, the issue is that on certain matters the Council failed to act, or acted in a way that was ambiguous. This brought about a situation–as indirect, historical causality alone–which exacerbated the crisis that erupted. Let us now to turn to the most important omission of Vatican II and the Conciliar Magisterium, where we find agreement.

I think that’s wrongheaded: per my many defenses of the council.

Our Agreed Solution: The Charitable Anathema

As I stated above, the pastoral approach of Vatican II sought to reverse the pastoral approach that had been used for about nineteen centuries. This is the charitable anathema. Von Hildebrand beautifully articulates this pastoral action in his book of the same name:

The anathema excludes the one who professes heresies from the communion of the Church, if he does not retract his errors. But for precisely this reason, it is an act of the greatest charity toward all the faithful, comparable to preventing a dangerous disease from infecting innumerable people. By isolating the bearer of infection, we protect the bodily health of others; by the anathema, we protect their spiritual health[.] …

And more: a rupture of communion with the heretic in no way implies that our obligation of charity toward him ceases. No, the Church prays also for heretics; the true Catholic who knows a heretic personally prays ardently for him and would never cease to impart all kinds of help to him. But he should not have any communion with him. Thus St. John, the great apostle of charity, said: “If any man say, I love God, and hateth his brother; he is a liar” (I Jn. 4:20). But he also said: “If any man come to you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into the house[.]” (2 Jn. 1:10)[7]

Yes, I agree. It’s explicitly biblical.

This “act of the greatest charity toward all the faithful” was abandoned by Pope St. John XXIII in his speech at the opening of the Council. He stated that the Church “thinks she meets today’s needs by explaining the validity of her doctrine more fully rather than by condemning” since “people by themselves seem to begin to condemn them.”[8] Thus the charitable anathema was abandoned with the belief that Modern Man could condemn his own errors.

With respect to His Holiness, we feel we must disagree with this approach, as the history of the 60s to the present has shown us. Would you agree with this assessment of St. John XXIII?

In retrospect, yes. It was a well-intentioned move, but I think it has been unfruitful and that the Church should strongly reconsider this particular thing. One might even argue that if it had been followed, pretty much the entire sexual scandal could have been avoided and nipped in the bud. But again, that’s hindsight. It’s always easier to argue strategy with the benefit of knowing the history of the previous 57 years that St. John XXIII didn’t have the benefit of knowing. He didn’t have a crystal ball.

Pope St. Paul VI revoked the Oath against Modernism, but then Pope St. John Paul II instituted a new Oath of Fidelity including canonical penalties against heresy. Still, he did not renew the charitable anathema (except for Lefebvre and De Castro Mayer). This was a prudential error which must be reversed. This is the omission from Vatican II and after which is the “cause” of the crisis on a bare historical level, not on the level of Magisterium.

I think dissidents on the left ought to be excommunicated, too: at the very least in the most severe, willfully obstinate and rebellious cases.

You said that you agreed with the Trad effort to get the Holy See to condemn heretics with the charitable anathema:

I think “the law should be laid down,” and rather forcefully. Recently I conceded that the traditionalists have been correct in calling for this approach for some time. I noted that the “strategy” of the Church of being more tolerant (itself borne out of the fear of schism: which was why St. Paul VI was reluctant) has been a manifest abject failure, and that it was time to go back to the approach of Pope St. Pius X: “kick the bums out” as it were.

We are in complete agreement here. The approach of Pope St. Pius X is the proven approach against Modernists, and indeed all of the history of heresy. That is why it is truly an “act of the greatest charity toward all the faithful.” I will say further that I think this agreement between us is more important than our disagreement about the nature of the Magisterium, the nature of Vatican II, etc. Those things will be debated among historians and theologians and Church may never work them out. But on the issues of manifest heresies, these things must be worked out and quickly, for the love of souls.

Total agreement here, which is nice to have. I think you would expect to find this view from an apologist like me: since I am dealing with the wreckage of apostasy and heresy and schism every day. I’m defending orthodoxy and the orthodox, Holy Mother Church, the Blessed Virgin  Mary, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Holy Father. I see what is “out” there, and therefore think that strong measures need to be taken to protect the flock.

Therefore I say that Conservatives and Trads must unite around calling for the Charitable Anathema from the Holy See. From my view, the Declaration of Truths is the best example of this. It is a succinct act of a few bishops which clarifies numerous propositions of the faith using the Magisterium from Vatican II and after. From my view, it is the way forward for the Church. This is because the crisis cannot be resolved until the Magisterium definitively defines the Hermeneutic of Continuity and binds all the faithful to it on pain of anathema. The Declaration, to a large degree, achieves this. That is why I advocate that all bishops must confess the Declaration and excommunicate those who oppose it. In my view this is the solution, as bishops have done for centuries but now do not do.

Perhaps in your next response you could share your thoughts on my proposal and how and what you might advocate in regards to the Charitable Anathema. As always, I am happy to be corrected wherever I am in error.

Yours for the cause of the Gospel,

Timothy Flanders

There may be many good parts in this Declaration of Truths, but of course people can and will disagree on its interpretation, just as they disagree on interpreting just about any document. I would say that the Catechism would be the document that best determines orthodoxy or not, and that it functions just fine in that capacity (perhaps in conjunction with the revised Ott). It has the full papal endorsement from Pope St. John Paul II. That’s a lot more authority than Bishops Burke, Schneider et al. Why would or should I defer to them (bishops known to be on the far right), as opposed to popes? 


Photo credit: anonymous portrait of Doctor of the Church St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), from 1622 or 1623 [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


August 24, 2020

See the previous installments:

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

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

Dialogue w 1P5 Writer Timothy Flanders: Introduction [2-1-20]

Dialogue w Timothy Flanders #2: State of Emergency? [2-25-20]

Is Vatican II Analogous to “Failed” Lateran Council V? [8-11-20]

Presently, I am replying to Timothy’s article, “Conservative/Trad Dialogue: Reply to Dave Armstrong” (The Meaning of Catholic, 8-24-20). Timothy’s words will be in blue.

“1P5” = One Peter Five.


First of all, I thank Timothy for yet another cordial, friendly, constructive reply. I can’t adequately express how much I appreciate it: particularly because of the topics we are discussing: where dialogue across any lines at all — however they may be defined  — is as rare as hen’s teeth (or maybe the extinct dodo bird). And I am grateful for the articulate, precise way in which he lays out his positions (whether I disagree with them or not). These two characteristics are good for everyone, and help to clarify exactly what it is that is being considered, and to aid readers in coming to their own thought-out conclusions, through the time-honored method of back-and-forth dialogue.

In a recent post you replied to my discussion of some of the fundamental questions at play in the debate about Vatican II on the level of philosophy and the level of history. First I will admit for the sake of the debate that I have not responded with corresponding rigor to your answer of mine regarding Newman, which I thought was a very good reply, so that point is well taken.


But let me summarize your assertions in that article in that Newman appears from your quotes there. He seems to say that he did not mean by “temporary suspension of the teaching Church” that anything absolute happened, but only that the Magisterium in some way was obscured, even though it was still acting in various ways, including a Roman synod. Is that a fair summation?

I believe so. In any event, he didn’t believe that Roman See defected from the orthodox faith in any way, shape, or form (and Vatican I expressly asserts in its ex cathedra definition of papal infallibility that this will never happen).

Another important point in this dialogue is to say that I do not call myself a traditionalist, nor do I call our apostolate traditionalist (please see the explanation why here).

I think that’s good, insofar as I have always thought that the word “Catholic” did not need an additional qualifying term (unless it is “orthodox”). Nevertheless, certainly it can be observed that you move in certain Catholic circles (e.g., One Peter Five / Taylor Marshall) that exhibit distinctive beliefs that (in my opinion) go beyond traditionalist, to the distinct category of “radical Catholic reactionary” (which I coined and carefully defined seven years ago now).

However, I do agree with some basic assertions of the “trad movement,” thus the use of the label in the title for the sake of summation.

So do I, for that matter, but I sharply distinguish that from reactionaries, which go quite a bit further.

In your most recent response, you called me a radical Catholic reactionary in contrast to you as an orthodox Catholic. We already agreed that my confession of faith is almost completely acceptable to you, and we originally proceeded with a shared agreement of those basics. 

Your Confession of Faith is fine, excepting the submission to the pope “with caution.” Then if we follow the link you made with those words, we see that you state, “Insofar as Pope Francis manifestly denies the faith, I will resist him.” Again, Vatican I made it very clear (as Dr. Fastiggi explained in your interview with him) that no pope will ever “deny the faith.” God has always, does, and will protect in the future, all popes from doing so, as part and parcel of the dogma of the indefectibility of the Catholic faith.

So you are concerned about a hypothetical that will never in fact, occur (therefore, — logically — it hasn’t with Pope Francis). In the same document it’s made clear that no man can judge the pope; yet you proceed to do so (oblivious to these teachings) in your section III of “Concerning Pope Francis.”

You opposed this understanding in a combox comment, dated 12-19-19:

Regarding Conte and others, such as Where Peter Is, I respond that their thinking is very alien to the Tradition. As Schneider points out, the canon law used to say “No one can judge a pope unless he be a heretic.” Popes have been judged and deposed, even though this is very rare, and saints have opposed popes as well. Moreover, saints and other doctors have entertained the possibility of a heretical pope. . . . 

[saints and Doctors, however eminent (including St. Robert Bellarmine), are not the magisterium. Even Augustine and Aquinas have been judged in due course by the Church to be in error on certain matters (fine points of predestination and the Immaculate Conception).] 

Conte’s assertion that the pope can never err in matters of faith is untenable. He is explicitly contradicted by Pope Adrian VI. Where is this dogmatized? Rather, this is the outgrowth of the false spirit of Vatican I, which led to ultramontanism.

It’s dogmatized at the highest level of authority in Pastor aeternus (Vatican I). Here are the relevant sections:

[Chapter 4] And because the sentence of our Lord Jesus Christ cannot be passed by, who said, ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church,’ these things which have been said are proved by events, because in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been kept undefiled, and her well-known doctrine has been kept holy. [“. . . has always been preserved immaculate  and sacred doctrine honored”: p. 614: D #3066] Desiring, therefore, not to be in the least degree separated from the faith and doctrine of this See, we hope that we may deserve to be in the one communion, which the Apostolic See preaches, in which is the entire and true solidity of the Christian religion. . . . 

To satisfy this pastoral duty, our predecessors ever made unwearied efforts that the salutary doctrine of Christ might be propagated among all the nations of the earth, and with equal care watched that it might be preserved genuine and pure where it had been received. Therefore the bishops of the whole world, now singly, now assembled in synod, following the long established custom of Churches and the form of the ancient rule, sent word to this Apostolic See of those dangers especially which sprang up in matters of faith, that there the losses of faith might be most effectually repaired where the faith cannot fail. [“where the faith cannot suffer impairment, the injuries to the faith might be repaired”: p. 615: D #3069] . . . 

For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter, that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith delivered through the Apostles. And indeed all the venerable Fathers have embraced and the holy orthodox Doctors have venerated and followed their apostolic doctrine; knowing most fully that this See of Saint Peter remains ever free from all blemish of error, according to the divine promise of the Lord our Saviour made to the Prince of His disciples: “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, confirm thy brethren.” [“this See of Peter always remains untainted by any error . . .”: p. 615: D #3070]

This gift, then, of truth and never-failing faith was conferred by heaven upon Peter and his successors in this Chair, that they might perform their high office for the salvation of all; that the whole flock of Christ, kept away by them from the poisonous food of error, might be nourished with the pasture of heavenly doctrine; that, the occasion of schism being removed, the whole Church might be kept one, and resting in its foundation, might stand firm against the gates of hell. [my bolding throughout; see further translation / bibliographical details here)

So perhaps you could clarify why you see me as not orthodox?

I don’t view this in terms of orthodoxy (as I would with “Catholic” liberal dissidents), but rather, in terms of attitudes and “quasi-schism”. Reactionaries are analogous to the schismatic Donatists, not the heretical Arians. But they are not canonically in schism; rather, they exhibit a spirit of schism, such that it may be that they actually go into formal schism in the future (as Dr. Fastiggi has already written about, as regards Abp. Vigano: noting that he may possibly already be in schism).  

Where have I ever asserted anything erroneous or heretical or ever said anything that was reactionary? I ask sincerely, as one hoping to be corrected as it is written, The way of life, to him that observeth correction: but he that forsaketh reproofs goeth astray (Prov. x. 17).

You manifest all four distinguishing marks of the reactionary, as I have written about (many times) for seven years now. You make it blatantly obvious and indisputable in your own definition of what you call “traditionalist” in your article, “Is This Apostolate Traditionalist?”:

  1. The Second Vatican Council is, at its best, a truly Ecumenical Council but an ambiguous experiment which must be overcome if we are to defeat Modernism. At its worst, it is a Modernist conspiracy to overthrow the Church from within.
  2. The New Mass is, at its best, a valid Mass which gives God glory yet has certain inherent defects which can harm souls. At its worst, it is a Modernist conspiracy to overthrow the Church from within.
  3. The post-conciliar Magisterium is, at its best, a valid papacy which has defended the faith at times but has permitted the Euro-American Church to be ruined by Modernists.[15] At worst, they are valid popes who attempted to blend—wittingly or unwittingly—the Modernist heresy with the Catholic faith and failed.

This is absolutely classic, textbook reactionary thinking: exactly in line with how I have defined it (as one of the most active critics and observers of traditionalism and reactionaryism: as you kindly noted in your previous reply). It’s so similar to what I have written that it could even pass as a quotation of my own definitions. The only think lacking above is the fourth mark: antipathy to [legitimate] ecumenism: which is actually a dominant sub-theme of #1. So I have to document that elsewhere in your writing, in order for you to be a card-carrying, full-fledged reactionary. I took me five minutes to locate an appropriate citation in a search of your website:

The final method the enemies use is in forcing the Magisterium to issue documents that have no reference to the prior Magisterium on the same topic. Again, this began at Vatican II when, for example, a document was issued on Ecumenism without reference to the prior documents on this subject. This issue has continued with the popes since. (“On the Limits of Papal Infallibility”: June 2019)

This statement is factually untrue, and it is simple to prove it: by recourse to the Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis redintegratio) and its footnotes, which are comprised of copious references to Holy Scripture (which may be considered “prior magisterium”: being inspired revelation) in 35 out of 42 of the notes. The other seven make reference to previous magisterial conciliar documents (five, referring to five councils: Florence being cited three times) or Church fathers (two: St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom). Here are the ones referring to prior councils:

15. Cf. 1 Petr. 2, 2S; CONC. VATICANUM 1, Sess. IV (1870), Constitutio Pastor Aeternus: Collac 7, 482 a.

21. Cf. CONC. FLORENTINUM, Sess. VIII (1439), Decretum Exultate Deo: Mansi 31, 1055 A.

23. Cf. CONC. LATERANENSE IV (1215) Constitutio IV: Mansi 22, 990; CONC. LUGDUNENSE II (1274), Professio fidei Michaelis Palaeologi: Mansi 24, 71 E; CONC. FLORENTINUM, Sess. VI (1439), Definitio Laetentur caeli: Mansi 31, 1026 E.

27. Cf. CONC. LATERANSE V, Sess. XII (1517), Constitutio Constituti: Mansi 32, 988 B-C.

38. Cf. CONC. FLORENTINUM, Sess. VI (1439), Definitio Laetentur caeli: Mansi 31 1026 E.

I’ve written many papers about Vatican II-type ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue as seen in the Bible, and also in prior Catholic tradition. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote a lot about it. See:

Ecumenical Gatherings at Assisi: A Defense: Ecumenism in St. Thomas Aquinas (Fr. Alfredo M. Morselli) [8-1-99]

Dialogue: Vatican II & Other Religions (Nostra Aetate) [8-1-99]

Salvation Outside the Church?: Alleged Catholic Magisterial Contradictions & St. Thomas Aquinas’ Views [7-31-03]

St. Paul: Two-Faced Re Unbelief? (Romans 1 “vs.” Epistles) [7-5-10]

“Separated Brethren” Term Before Vatican II (1962-1965) [3-25-13]

How Protestants Can be Brethren in Christ (Christians) and [Partial] Heretics at the Same Time, According to Trent [1-4-14]

Does the Catholic Church Equate Allah and Yahweh (God)? [article for Seton Magazine, 18 June 2014]

Biblical Evidence for Ecumenism (“A Biblical Approach to Other Religions”) [National Catholic Register, 8-9-17]

Ecumenism vs. No Salvation Outside of the Church? (vs. Dustin Buck Lattimore) [8-9-17]

Is VCII’s Nostra Aetate “Religiously Pluralistic” & Indifferentist? [6-7-19]

Vs. Pasqualucci Re Vatican II #2: Unitatis Redintegratio (Salvation) [7-11-19]

Vs. Pasqualucci Re Vatican II #9: Dignitatis Humanae & Religious Liberty [7-18-19]

If I may say, my brother, I do think your labeling of me as a “reactionary” weakens your argument, because you seem to rely on a preliminary criticism of unknown comments of which I have no part, then an attack on a reasoning “as reactionaries do” to critique my argument, without mentioning or addressing the distinctions I made about causality both philosophical and historical.

As I just established beyond all doubt, your views are classic / textbook reactionary ones: as I have carefully defined and analyzed these sorts of thoughts for over twenty years, but most precisely in the last seven, as I sought to lay out a sociological group and category of thinking that was distinct from traditionalists (what used to — broadly speaking — be called “radtrad” or “ultratraditionalist”), but also distinct from movements further to the right on the spectrum: SSPX and sedevacantists. I still call such folks “Catholic” (right in my title, which was very deliberately so) and do not assert that they are canonically in schism.

Of course it’s nothing personal. I hold you in very high regard as a person and fellow brother in Christ and His Church. But I can’t pretend that you don’t believe what you manifestly do: as proven in your own clear words, in your dealings on the same topics I have also analyzed. I think you are sincere (as I grant to virtually everyone), but in error; and I hope to persuade you to forsake these errors in due course, as we (I hope) continue to dialogue. And you hope to persuade me (true dialogue always hopes to follow truth wherever it leads).

And if in the future you persuade me of errors, I believe I am also willing to change my mind, if warranted, as well, just as I have on many major issues in my life (abortion, evangelical conversion, Catholic conversion, contraception, feminism, broad political views, divorce, sexual issues, capital punishment in the last few years, etc.). 

The fundamental concept that I was addressing was about your assertion of causality in the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc. I conceded this point, then contrasted the rejection of this fallacy with the skepticism of Hume.

I’m not interested in a strictly philosophical / epistemological discussion: let alone guided by Hume: who is hardly a model of Catholic thinking (and was just barely even a theist, and no Christian at all). I think that diverts from our main topic of the nature of Catholic authority and indefectibility.

I’m happy to go into these different historical instances, but these concepts are the primary assertions I am making. I am attempting to answer the question: is it possible for a Council to fail?

It depends on what you mean. If by that, you mean that the documents contain literal heresy that binds the faithful, I say no: it’s not possible (and this follows from Vatican I, Pastor aeternus, since the ecumenical council must be ratified by the pope, who cannot fall into such error). There are other magisterial pronouncements, no doubt, about conciliar infallibility, and when and how it occurs. Your view is a rejection of the dogma of indefectibility.

If you mean, on the other hand, that many in the the Church (and larger society) did not heed its teachings, then yes, absolutely it can “fail” in this strictly limited sense (indeed, one might reasonably contend that every single one did in this sense). But that’s not the council’s fault. We can just as easily argue that Holy Scripture “failed” due to (all through history) rampant misinterpretation and failure to heed its commands and instructions. Is that the Bible’s fault, though? Of course it is not. Likewise, we cannot blame councils for human beings’ (including Catholics’) sinfulness and stubbornness and willful ignorance.

The position that councils are failing and contradicting themselves all over the place is that of Luther and Calvin and their followers, and all Protestants, who reject infallible conciliar authority. You should pause and reflect upon the seriousness of accepting a view which was central to the Protestant Revolt. This was a key issue that I agonizingly grappled with in my own conversion: how mere men (popes and councils in line with popes) could be granted this extraordinary gift of infallibility. It takes a lot of faith to believe, and I think part of the problem with reactionary thinking is that it simply lacks faith in the power and promises of God. One can’t accept these things with reason alone (another reason why recourse to Hume in these matters is a rabbit trail).

I’m not sure you adequately faced the quote from Ratzinger, which says that the Council did not accomplish its intentions in so many words. I certainly concede that Ratzinger had no mind to reject the Council or assert that the Council was the cause of these things, but in this quote he is saying that the best intentions of the Council did not come about. In other words, the cause of the Council did not produce the desired effect, but the opposite occurred.

This is self-evident, but it doesn’t follow at all that it’s the council’s fault, or that it caused it. You may be more sophisticated in your analysis, but in the case of many, it is indeed a straightforward adoption of the good ol’  post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Such alleged causation would have to be painstakingly proven by recourse to the conciliar texts. You claimed that the council didn’t even address issues regarding the sexual revolution at all. I showed that it did: at considerable length, too. And that revolution wasn’t even in full force yet, so the council actually foresaw what was coming to an extraordinary degree, just as Humanae Vitae remarkably foresaw the tragic results which were to come. 

What was the cause of this crisis? I argued that it cannot be the Council on a philosophical level, since every Council is in some way an act of the Holy Spirit. But I said that the Council could be a cause on a historical level, since some Councils simply fail to address the situation adequatelyPut another way, it is simply an assertion that we need another Magisterial Act such as an Ecumenical Council or something with binding force, since Vatican II has not worked, nor will it work for the future. This is my thesis. This does not mean that the Council was not an act of the Magisterium, but merely that the Magisterium needs to add some greater act for the situation to be resolved. 

You make it sound like all you are saying is “have another council, to further develop the previous one”: which is uncontroversial. But that is hardly consistent with your far more radical statement that I cited above: “The Second Vatican Council is, at its best, a truly Ecumenical Council but an ambiguous experiment which must be overcome if we are to defeat Modernism. At its worst, it is a Modernist conspiracy to overthrow the Church from within.” You hang around folks who believe precisely the “‘worst” opinion about Vatican II.

Your signature was included in the open letter to the most radical reactionary (and now, also rabidly conspiratorial) bishop of all: Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, and probably the second most reactionary: Bishop Athanasius Schneider. It includes the following observations:

We are grateful for your calls for an open and honest debate about the truth of what happened at Vatican II and whether the Council and its implementation contain errors or aspects that favor errors or harm the Faith. Such a debate cannot start from a conclusion that the Second Vatican Council as a whole and in its parts is per se in continuity with Tradition. Such a pre-condition to a debate prevents critical analysis and argument and only permits the presentation of evidence that supports the conclusion already announced. Whether or not Vatican II can be reconciled with Tradition is the question to be debated, . . . 

The Council and Its Texts are the Cause of Many Current Scandals and Errors . . . 

Archbishop Viganò has argued it would be better to altogether “forget” the Council, . . . 

Then you write: “a new Magisterial Act—analogous to Trent and its anathemas—is necessary to address the crisis.” I would say that papal encyclicals in the last fifty years have been doing an excellent job. But there will be another council eventually. It was 92 years between Vatican I and II, so if that model applies, Vatican II would be around 2057 (when I would be 99!). Simply having another ecumenical council is not something we need to argue about. The only question is when to call it. That was true all through history: not just with the analogy to Lateran V.

Councils and Magisterial Acts are generally called to address a current crisis. The real crisis (the sexual/Marxist/Feminist revolution) erupted after Vatican II. Therefore Vatican II cannot address the crisis which did not exist at the time of the Council. It would be similar to Catholics saying we should not call Trent to address Protestantism because we already have Lateran V. Or Catholics asserting we should not call Ephesus because we already have Nicaea.

Marxism can hardly be said to be a post-Vatican II phenomenon, though the sexual revolution / abortion genocide clearly was. But granting your statement, why, then, are reactionaries so insistent on blaming Vatican II for virtually every problem in the Church and society? You nuance it here, under pressure of my criticisms, but that ain’t the usual pattern (even in your own past statements). It’s strongly implied that Vatican II itself is the cause in these portions of the Open Letter:

. . . the Second Vatican Council and the dramatic changes in Catholic belief and practice that followed . . . The event of the Second Vatican Council appears now more than fifty years after its completion to be unique in the history of the Church. Never before our time has an ecumenical council been followed by such a prolonged period of confusion, corruption, loss of faith, and humiliation for the Church of Christ.

But why would you desire an ecumenical council now: with a pope whom you think is (let’s say) “very problematic” and bishops who are regularly pilloried by reactionaries, as well. Karl Keating (not a reactionary) has even stated that they should “all” resign. I’m not sure if he meant all of the bishops in the world or just in the United States. These are the people who would be voting on conciliar documents.

My argument is the same as Dietrich von Hildebrand. He pleaded with St. Paul VI to condemn heresies, even drafting condemnations himself and giving them to him, but Papa Montini refused saying it was “too harsh.” The charitable anathema, as Hildebrand argues in the book of the same name, is the solution to our times as it has been for centuries. Nevertheless, this method was refused not only by Pope St. Paul VI, but also St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and certainly by Pope Francis. Moreover, this time-proven yet abandoned pastoral method was used effectively by two other saintly popes–Pius IX and Pius X–the latter of which was canonized by Ven. Pius XII specifically as a model for our times immediately before the Council (which is why Pius XII canonized him in a rush job). The traditionalist argument boils down to the assertion that Vatican II is inadequate to address the situation, and something traditional must address it: the charitable anathema, which has already proven effective in our times against what you admit is the greatest problem right now: Modernism.

Here I actually agree with you (shock! gasp!!). I think “the law should be laid down,” and rather forcefully. Recently I conceded that the traditionalists have been correct in calling for this approach for some time. I noted that the “strategy” of the Church of being more tolerant (itself borne out of the fear of schism: which was why St. Paul VI was reluctant) has been a manifest abject failure, and that it was time to go back to the approach of Pope St. Pius X: “kick the bums out” as it were. Here is what I wrote on 1-26-19:

I think a good case can be made now that the traditionalist (not reactionary) complaint that too little was and is being done about heterodoxy and dissenters (and abusers, as it were) in the Church was correct, and that we should have cleaned house long ago.

I know why it wasn’t done. I’ve written about it (way back in 2002). It was fear of schism, which was very real after Humanae Vitae in 1968. But in retrospect, in my opinion I think that was the wrong (though quite well-meaning) approach.

Servant of God Fr. John A. Hardon (my mentor) was an adviser to Pope St. Paul VI, and he said that Paul VI felt like he had a crown of thorns on his head: so much did he suffer from the dissent.

Of course he did. But the question (hindsight is 20-20) is what to do about it. I say that the Church didn’t do enough, and that’s a large reason why we’re in the mess we’re in. Most of the abuses in question occurred long before Francis was pope: even before St. John Paul II was pope.

The liberals have been wreaking havoc, and the Church didn’t sufficiently crack down on them. That’s my present opinion, based on hindsight: “we tried x; now it is evident that x has failed, if we look at the fruit.” The problem wasn’t Vatican II. The problem was allowing the liberals who distorted Vatican II to run wild. But of course I could be wrong.

I think another major factor is also the human tendency to be men-pleasers, which has often afflicted our bishops, per the classic 1995 article by James Hitchcock: “Conservative Bishops, Liberal Results.”

Personally, I’ve never had nothing but pure, utter disdain for the views of Catholic dissidents and liberals and modernists and so-called “progressives”. That’s been made abundantly clear in my writings. I think they are fundamentally dishonest and oftentimes deliberately devious and deceptive, and with nefarious intentions. I refer mainly to the big shots, not necessarily every individual: many of whom are simply ignorant.

How specifically to deal with dissenters and heterodoxy, however, is a separate issue, where equally good Catholics can and do disagree. I suspect now that the Church has been far too lenient, and that this was a huge prudential misjudgment and grave mistake, in retrospect. “Hindsight is 20-20.” But we must learn from our well-meaning mistakes. (“Catholic Sex & Heterodoxy Scandals: Long-Term Causes”)

As a corollary, as Hildebrand also argued, the New Mass has fundamental problems in its Latin texts in weakening the Tridentine emphasis on the Real Presence. Thus it failed to create a renewal, but rather the opposite occurred. 

Here again, you assume this without proving it, and blame the new Mass rite for lessening belief in the Real Presence (and who knows what else?). It’s simply not that simple. Loss of faith comes from a host of reasons and cannot be generalized about in this fashion. Von Hildebrand (whom I wrote about at length in 2002) did severely criticize the New Mass, but he also stated:

[I]t goes without saying that it would also be completely wrong to disobey any of the rulings of the Holy Father regarding the Novus Ordo and the Tridentine liturgy (cf. the passage from Vatican I I quoted in footnote 78-a, regarding the obedience which Catholics owe the Pope even in those practical matters where they are entitled to disagree with the judgment of the Pope). (The Devastated Vineyard, Harrison, New York: Roman Catholic Books, rep. 1985 [orig. 1973], 73-74)

It is so reactionary to say we should try something different at this point? You seem to assert that it is. Hildebrand argued that the New Mass should be abrogated and the Tridentine restored. This is not a schismatic, reactionary, irrational Pharisee assertion, as you forcefully assert, but a respectful plea to Holy Mother Church to use more effective means of saving souls—the anathema and the Latin Mass—means which have already proven themselves effective over centuries.

The Tridentine Mass has been restored (in 2007), and I favor it being even more widely available, according to the level of demand for it (petitions to bishops, etc.). I think that is the solution: allowing “liturgical diversity” but not eliminating the (fully defensible from tradition) Pauline Mass, which would simply be an act similar to how the Old Mass was in effect “suppressed” (though not formally). I favor the “reform of the reform” just as Pope Benedict XVI does, and I defend that against critics like Peter Kwasniewski.

Perhaps you could clarify: do you regard Hildebrand as a traditionalist or a reactionary according to your definitions of those terms? My thought is greatly influenced by Von Hildebrand who, in my view, provides the most convincing arguments of any other writer in the 20th century crisis.

As I noted, I wrote at length about him and his traditionalist views in 2002. You couldn’t have been influenced by him with regard to Vatican II, because he loved it:

When one reads the luminous encyclical Ecclesiam Suam of Pope Paul VI or the magnificent Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Fathers of the Council, one cannot but realize the greatness of the Second Vatican Council . . . Indeed, it would be difficult to conceive a greater contrast that that existing between the official documents of Vatican II and the superficial, insipid pronouncements of various theologian and laymen that have been breaking out everywhere like some infectious disease. On the one side, we find the true spirit of Christ, the authentic voice of the Church; we find texts that in both form and content breathe a glorious supernatural atmosphere [hmmmm: no hint of modernist co-opting of the Council and “ambiguity” in this description]. On the other side, we find a depressing secularization, a complete loss of the sensus supranaturalis, a morass of confusion. (Trojan Horse in the City of God: Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1967, p. 3)

He speaks of “The distortion of the authentic nature of the Council that this epidemic of theological dilettantism produces . . . ” (pp. 3-4). He goes on:

[T]here is a third choice, which welcomes the official decisions of the Vatican Council, but at the same time emphatically rejects the secularizing interpretations given them by many so-called progressive theologians and laymen. This third choice is based on unshakable faith in Christ and in the infallible magisterium of His Holy Church . . . This is simply the Catholic position . . . It should be clear that this third response to the contemporary crisis in the Church is not timidly compromising, but consistent and forthright . . . .

The response we have been describing involves grave concern and apprehension over the present invasion of the life of the Church by secularism. It considers the present crisis the most serious one in the entire history of the Church [as I often heard the late Fr. John A. Hardon say]. Yet it is full of hope that the Church will triumph, because our Lord Himself has said: ‘And the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.’ (Ibid., 5-7)

This is precisely the position of Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and myself, and it should be that of all Catholics. I don’t classify Dietrich von Hildebrand as a reactionary because he doesn’t trash Vatican II. I wrote in 2002 (I only changed the original fourth word to “reactionary” when I re-uploaded it this year):

[T]hings in the reactionary camp have moved radically to the right since 1967 (sort of a parallel to the most exclusivistic form of Protestant Fundamentalism). Now the Council is not dead-set against the liberals, nor does it represent “the true spirit of Christ, the authentic voice of the Church.” Rather, it is itself liberal, and the root of the problem (at least in large part)!!! It is “ambiguous” and shot-through with “modernist” theology. How different from the position of Catholic traditionalist von Hildebrand!

If I have misunderstood your argumentation please correct me, brother.

You seem to continue to misunderstand how I define reactionary. Hopefully, you won’t, after this reply. Being willing to be corrected is an admirable attribute.

Also, I admit my historical assertion about Lateran V and indulgences was made for memory, and I may have confused Lateran V with Lateran IV in that regard (these are corrections I definitely appreciate).

Thanks for this humble admission as well. Perfectly understandable mistake . . .

I look forward to more conversation brother, and I hope you and your family are well.

That is my hope and wish as well, and blessings and best wishes to you and yours also.


Photo credit: Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889–1977), German Roman Catholic philosopher and theologian [public domain / Wikipedia]


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,, 5-3-19)
A Response to Peter Kwasniewski (Jimmy Akin,, 5-4-19)
A Second Response to Peter Kwasniewski (Jimmy Akin,, 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.


Unfortunately, Money Trees Do Not ExistIf you have been aided in any way by my work, or think it is valuable and worthwhile, please strongly consider financially supporting it (even $10 / month — a mere 33 cents a day — would be very helpful). I have been a full-time Catholic apologist since Dec. 2001, and have been writing Christian apologetics since 1981 (see my Resume). My work has been proven (by God’s grace alone) to be fruitful, in terms of changing lives (see the tangible evidences from unsolicited “testimonies”). I have to pay my bills like all of you: and have a (homeschooling) wife and two children still at home to provide for, and a mortgage to pay.
My book royalties from three bestsellers in the field (published in 2003-2007) have been decreasing, as has my overall income, making it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.  I provide over 2700 free articles here, for the purpose of your edification and education, and have written 50 books. It’ll literally be a struggle to survive financially until Dec. 2020, when both my wife and I will be receiving Social Security. If you cannot contribute, I ask for your prayers (and “likes” and links and shares). Thanks!
See my information on how to donate (including 100% tax-deductible donations). It’s very simple to contribute to my apostolate via PayPal, if a tax deduction is not needed (my “business name” there is called “Catholic Used Book Service,” from my old bookselling days 17 or so years ago, but send to my email: Another easy way to send and receive money (with a bank account or a mobile phone) is through Zelle. Again, just send to my e-mail address. May God abundantly bless you.
Photo credit: geralt (11-18-14) [Pixabay / Pixabay license]
February 1, 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.

Timothy’s words will be in blue throughout.


I would like simply to get some basics understood between us (what are your basic opinions about general matters?) so we don’t waste time writing against misunderstandings between us. You can find my general perspective in the following links:

Confession of Faith

The Crisis: A Hypothesis

I’ve written so much on all these topics that it is difficult to know where to begin, to summarize it. It’s a bit like being asked, “why do you love your wife?” I’m very happily married, and to answer that would be overwhelming. I could list 500 things or I could summarize by saying, “she is the best wife and woman in the world.” But I’ll do my best, as a first attempt to generalize. It’s interesting that you don’t like the label “traditionalist” whereas I actually consider myself one (with just a few key qualifications). I wrote an article in 2013: Am I a Catholic Traditionalist? (Well, YOU Decide!)“.

On the other hand, I don’t call myself that. I am simply an orthodox Catholic (if I must use a description beyond “Catholic”). So I also wrote the paper: On the Use of “Traditionalist” Preceding the Name of “Catholic”.

As you may be aware, I coined the term “radical Catholic reactionary” in 2012. I explain how I differentiate that from “traditionalist” in this paper: Definitions: Radical Catholic Reactionaries vs. Mainstream “Traditionalists”. The one-paragraph definition of it in that paper is as follows:

a rigorist, divisive group completely separate from mainstream “traditionalism” that continually, vociferously, and vitriolically (as a marked characteristic or defining trait) bashes and trashes popes, Vatican II, the New Mass, and ecumenism (the “big four”): going as far as they can go without technically crossing over the canonical line of schism. In effect, they become their own popes: exercising private judgment in an unsavory fashion, much as (quite ironically) Catholic liberals do, and as Luther and Calvin did when they rebelled against the Church. They can’t live and let live. They must assume a condescending “superior-subordinate” orientation.

I further explained why I coined it and provided additional clarifications.

I have defended the Pauline [“New”] Mass as in continuity with liturgical tradition. I debated Dr. Paul Kwasniewski at length regarding the “reform of the reform”. I noted how I continue to defend Pope Benedict and Summorum Pontificum, while traditionalists and reactionaries are moving away from both. Here are other papers of mine about this issue:

You Prefer the Tridentine / EF Mass? Great! You Prefer Novus Ordo / OF (like me)? Great! [8-14-15]

Two Forms of One Rite (Pope Benedict XVI) [11-4-15]

Critique of Criticisms of the New Mass [11-5-15]

Worshiping the TLM vs. Worshiping God Through It [12-16-15]

Traditionalist Misuse of Ratzinger “Banal” Quote [12-17-15]

Chris Ferrara vs. Pope Benedict XVI (New Mass) [12-18-15]

I defend Vatican II over against charges of “ambiguity” and “modernism”: notably recently in 12 in-depth replies to Paolo Pasqualucci. I have many more defenses listed on my “Church” page (search “Vatican II”).

I defend legitimate Catholic ecumenism, as in line with Catholic tradition, including the Bible and St. Thomas Aquinas. See my web page on that.

And I defend Pope Francis from the charges of heresy and modernism. As of this writing, I have done so 160 times. And I have collected 420 articles in defense of the pope.

I have critiqued all of the major books that “bash” the pope (Taylor Marshall, Phil Lawler, Karl Keating, Ross Douthat, and Henry Sire). Pretty much, no reactionary has been willing to engage in actual dialogue except for Dr. Paul Kwasniewski. And of course you (whatever your category is) are also willing (for which I highly commend you). See all these papers on my Papacy web page. My Amazon review of Taylor Marshall’s book, Infiltration was the top-rated for over two weeks, and top-rated critical review, with the most “helpful” votes, when it was censored by Amazon.

See also, of course, my Radical Catholic Reactionaries vs. Catholic Traditionalism web page.

As I wrote at the end of my Amazon review of Infiltration:

I agree that many groups have tried to infiltrate the Church. The radical homosexuals are the ones in our day. The liberals have been trying to wreck Catholicism since the French Revolution. My mentor, Servant of God Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ . . . said often that modernism is the culmination of all heresies, and that the modernist crisis is the greatest in the history of the Church. I agree 100%!

My response to that, though, is that the Church is led and protected by the Holy Spirit and is indefectible; therefore, all such attempts fail in the long run. Reactionaryism is the counsel of despair. The orthodox Catholic is always hopeful and believes that God is in control and that all things work together for good (Romans 8:28).

Conspiratorialism is a dead-end street; the fool’s way out, and a plain dumb and intellectually naive and vacant interpretation of very complex events and ideas. Much better is traditional Catholic grace-empowered faith: particularly in the indefectibility of the Church, God’s providence, and the scriptural knowledge that sinners are always present in the Church (parable of the wheat and tares, seven churches of Revelation, etc.).

In this vision and way of life, we know and believe that God is always in control and protects Holy Mother Church despite our repeated attempts to bring it down to the dirt and filth of human sin and nefarious aspirations for power, rebellion against God, and all the rest.

This will serve as my statement of my basic views. In two sentences, it is:

I believe in all that Holy Mother Church teaches and affirms and requires of her members. I am as rock-solid orthodox as they come: mentored by (and enthusiastically recommended by) Servant of God Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ: adviser to Pope St. Paul VI and catechist of St. Teresa of Calcutta and her nuns.

I have produced a lot of material about these issues, as you or anyone can see. We can go wherever you like. But we have to narrow it down. I would prefer that you select one of these papers of mine to start (whatever is your pleasure), critique it, and then I would counter-reply.


Unfortunately, Money Trees Do Not Exist: If you have been aided in any way by my work, or think it is valuable and worthwhile, please strongly consider financially supporting it (even $10 / month — a mere 33 cents a day — would be very helpful). I have been a full-time Catholic apologist since Dec. 2001, and have been writing Christian apologetics since 1981 (see my Resume). My work has been proven (by God’s grace alone) to be fruitful, in terms of changing lives (see the tangible evidences from unsolicited “testimonies”). I have to pay my bills like all of you: and have a (homeschooling) wife and three children still at home to provide for, and a mortgage to pay.
My book royalties from three bestsellers in the field (published in 2003-2007) have been decreasing, as has my overall income, making it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.  I provide over 2600 free articles here, for the purpose of your edification and education, and have written 50 books. It’ll literally be a struggle to survive financially until Dec. 2020, when both my wife and I will be receiving Social Security. If you cannot contribute, I ask for your prayers (and “likes” and links and shares). Thanks!
See my information on how to donate (including 100% tax-deductible donations). It’s very simple to contribute to my apostolate via PayPal, if a tax deduction is not needed (my “business name” there is called “Catholic Used Book Service,” from my old bookselling days 17 or so years ago, but send to my email: Another easy way to send and receive money (with a bank account or a mobile phone) is through Zelle. Again, just send to my e-mail address. May God abundantly bless you.


Photo credit: geralt (1-31-17) [PixabayPixabay License]


July 17, 2019

This is a follow-up to my Reply to Timothy Flanders’ Defense of Taylor Marshall. Timothy responded in my blog combox. His words will be in blue.



Praise to Jesus Christ!

Thank you for the thoughtful critique of my article here on your website, my brother. I appreciate the words and all of your links since I am not very familiar with your work. I also would prefer to be wrong about the Infiltration and Vatican II, so I have been searching for scholarly critiques of what you call “reactionaryism” so as to provide an objective picture of the evidence which critiques Vatican II (thank you the link to the refutation).

Thank you for stating here in this response that you intended to not interact with the evidence for the infiltration, which explains how your original critique did not discuss more of the primary and secondary sources that Marshall used. It is true, as well, that my article, limited as it was by length did not face more of your points in particular but I needed to make generalizations for the sake of space. I welcome your correction if I have misrepresented you in my own writing.

I would like to ask you first about your comment about Dr. von Hildebrand. He stated in the quotation that I cited in the article that he thought that Freemasons and Communists were orchestrating things back in 1973. It seems you have some respect for Hildebrand, would you consider Hildebrand’s observations to be reactionary or puerile in some way?

Thank you and I look forward to discussing with you brother.

With respect,

Timothy Flanders

Hi Timothy,

Thanks for your reply, and especially the courteous nature of it. All they are doing at One Peter Five is insults up and down (Skojec saying I’m completely “washed up” as an apologist, etc.). Plain silly . . . so it’s nice to have an actual discussion, with the person who wrote the article.

I can understand that you couldn’t deal with all of my article, as it was quite long. I just wanted to explain what its purpose was. I felt that I dealt with your article adequately in my reply, including any “corrections.” I don’t have much to add here except to answer your questions. Thanks again for your humble attitude.

As for Dr. von Hildebrand, I understand that he had a big problem with the New Mass. The way it was implemented in practice, I can understand that. As I noted, I don’t deny that groups have sought to infiltrate the Church. The question is how, to what degree, and with what success. That includes both Freemasons and Communists. So I wouldn’t say that merely noting that is reactionary in and of itself, let alone “puerile.”

It’s the overall thrust of Dr. Marshall’s book that I object to: as if these conspirators were wildly successful. I deny that they have hijacked Vatican II or overthrown any of Catholic tradition. As an apologist I always concentrate on what systems of belief actually teach. There is liberalism and mayhem in any Christian communion: including the Catholic Church. But they haven’t changed Church teaching. To see that, we need only look at Anglicanism, to see the stark contrast.

If you wanna discuss anything else, feel free. That’s all I can think of to say for now.

God bless!

Hey brother thanks for the response.

I understand your feelings toward One Peter Five but I would like to ask you to keep an open mind toward your brethren there (notwithstanding any insults they may have hurled at you). They are a good group of brethren in Christ, though they are coming to different conclusions than you. I think we all need to forgive each other as faithful Catholics in a difficult time. In a counter point to your view of “all they are doing is insults up and down” I can point you to two different articles of mine they have published which make critical statements about “traditionalists.” This alone proves that there is more here than just invective, although I would readily admit (as I do say) a lack of charity from some who call themselves “traditionalists.”

For myself, I do not consider myself a “traditionalist” but I do think many of their points are reasonable and a lot of their evidence needs to be faced. My impression from your first critique of Marshall (and forgive me if I drew an incorrect impression) was that you were simply attempting to quickly label Marshall and dismiss him (your argument seemed to hinge on convicted him of a three point label).

The reason I bring up Hildebrand in particular, is that it would appear he would come under your critique of bashing on points #2 and #3. He wrote privately that Vatican II itself as a “great misfortune” (if I remember his wording correctly), and also devotes a chapter to critiquing the New Mass itself–not its implementation per se–in The Devastated Vineyard. In this work he states “truly if one of the devils from Screwtape Letters was responsible for the liturgy, he would not have done a better job than the New Mass” (again paraphrasing for memory).

Thus when I read Hildebrand, I see a serious intellectual with a deep charity and love for the Church who has serious critiques of the Vatican council as such and the New Mass as such. My point is simply that the “traditionalist” movement is not a bunch of crazy conspiracy theorists but real Christian brothers who are often also serious intellectuals, who deserve the respect of brothers and academics.

For my part, I have been searching for a serious, academic critique of traditionalism but have not been able to find any except Likoudis, whose book, from my view, suffers from an exaggerated ultramontanism and also out of date (published before 2007). I see your critiques were published after Summorum Pontificum so I will be reading those soon. In the mean time, perhaps you would be so kind as to visit my website and provide some of your critiques there, which I would honestly welcome. I would prefer not to agree with traditionalists, but I have not found any way to answer their arguments.

Anyways, I do appreciate the conversation and I hope you have some time to provide some criticism on my website. God bless you and your family. :)

in Christ,


Hi Timothy,

Thanks for this response as well, which remains substantive and civil. Good for you. My opinion of One Peter Five remains unchanged, and likely will stay as it is, but I am truly happy to see that they publish a person like you who refuses to get into the petty, personal insults and ad hominem. May your tribe greatly multiply over there!

For myself, I do not consider myself a “traditionalist” but I do think many of their points are reasonable and a lot of their evidence needs to be faced.

I might be closer to traditionalism than you, per my article: Am I a Catholic Traditionalist? (Well, You Decide!).

My impression from your first critique of Marshall (and forgive me if I drew an incorrect impression) was that you were simply attempting to quickly label Marshall and dismiss him (your argument seemed to hinge on convicted him of a three point label).

I explained in some depth at the beginning exactly what my purpose was. It was a sociological examination, showing that Taylor is a member of the category of radical Catholic reactionaries, which, in my usage (I coined the term) is in stark contrast to traditionalists. What people do with that information is up to them. I was simply saying that this is the category of thought we are talking about, which isn’t poisoning the well, but simply being intellectually honest. I’ve done that with regard to several of the formal criticisms of Pope Francis as well. My point was: “be aware of the milieu from which these critiques come (as the dominant influence on them). These are people who also believe things like the dissing of Vatican II and the canonization of John Paul II, etc.”

Of course, I was also arguing that he has gone too far, and that he was dead-wrong on several counts. That’s not poisoning the well, either. It’s simply rational theological / ecclesiological argumentation.

Hildebrand died in 1977, a year before Pope John Paul II became pope, so he saw the worst of the usual conciliar aftermath and little or none of what I would call a “revival.” Sometimes people like that are tempted to throw the baby out with the bathwater. As an analogy, my mentor was the Servant of God Fr. John A. Hardon, S. J. He saw the worst excesses in the beginning of the Catholic charismatic movement, and so became quite critical of it. It’s one of the few things where I disagreed with him. And I did because the Church supports the movement. I had to follow Holy Mother Church, if the choice was between that and even a man who may become a saint one day. Aquinas and Augustine were wrong on a few things, too.

That said, if Hildebrand was against the New Mass and the Council in and of themselves, then he would have possessed two of the four hallmark traits of the reactionary. Otherwise great men can be wrong in some things. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. An ecumenical council cannot be dismissed by any Catholic who believes in indefectibility. I’d have to see his reasoning more closely, but to my mind, there is no argument that can undermine the sublime authority of an ecumenical council.

Right now, I’m writing a series of refutations of Pasqualucci’s 26 supposed “points of rupture” of Vatican II with tradition: an article published at One Peter Five (to their great shame). I’ve completed nine installments (six already posted).

the “traditionalist” movement is not a bunch of crazy conspiracy theorists but real Christian brothers who are often also serious intellectuals, who deserve the respect of brothers and academics.

Again, for me, traditionalists and reactionaries are not the same thing. I coined the latter term precisely because I was trying to find a way to differentiate the extremists from the legitimate traditionalists: with whom I feel a great affinity. It was an effort to retire the term radtrad: which traditionalists (in great numbers) were interpreting to mean “all traditionalists: who are radical”, whereas the intended meaning was “the extreme, radical wing of the traditionalist movement.” I wanted to get “traditionalist” out of my title and “Catholic” in it. Hence, “radical Catholic reactionary.”

As to being serious intellectuals, some are and some aren’t. But there are different levels to that analysis. If I see someone who persists in holding seriously erroneous premises, against all critiques, then I see a person that has a serious credibility problem as an academic (as the case may be). Just being an intellectual or academic is not enough in and of itself. One still has to have true opinions. Chesterton wrote:

[W]hile there are stupid people everywhere, there is a particular minute and microcephalous idiocy which is only found in an intelligentsia. (Illustrated London News, “The Defense of the Unconventional,” 10-17-25)

I call them Catholics, because they are, but I don’t respect at all what they are teaching (when they are in error), because it is serious, dangerous falsehood, and my job as an apologist is to try to protect the flock from such things, and to defend Holy Mother Church. Steve Skojec, on the other hand, has denied that I am a Catholic.

I have written two books critiquing reactionaries (not traditionalists), dated 2002 (rev. 2013) and 2012. I will send you free e-book copies if you like (though they only cost $2.99). They are available in PDF, mobi, or ePub formats.

It may be that further dialogue on your site could be a fruitful endeavor for both of us. I will likely do that, time-permitting. Right now my “project” is the defense of Vatican II contra Pasqualucci. You might want to consider interacting with those as well. I would welcome that.

May God richly bless you,



Photo credit: original, first edition cover of my first book on reactionary Catholicism, later revised in 2013 and retitled Reflections on Radical Catholic Reactionaries, in order to differentiate the extreme reactionaries from legitimate Catholic traditionalists.


July 8, 2019

Timothy Flanders, writing in the reactionary venue One Peter Five (“Conspiracy and Catholic Doctrine: A Defense of Taylor Marshall”: 7-8-19), offers a rare substantive reply to any serious criticism of Taylor Marshall’s book, Infiltration. He deals with my first lengthy treatment of the book (technically not a book review): Reactionary Infiltration of Taylor Marshall’s Book, Infiltration (5-30-19).

He also counter-replies to Dr. Jeff Mirus (towards whom he is the most critical and disparaging), and Fr. Dwight Longenecker and Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse (both of whom he is relatively less critical of). So for once I’m not the biggest bum and scoundrel. I’m second fiddle to Dr. Mirus. The other three can all ably defend themselves. I will respond only to the critique of my article.

Timothy Flanders’ words will be in blue. Dr. Taylor Marshall’s words will be in green.


To his credit, Armstrong engages in a somewhat academic manner by disputing some sources, but his critique also hinges not on a question of evidence, but on convicting Marshall of the sin of “bashing” so as to label him and dismiss him. 

Flanders attempts to caricature my article as merely a species of “poisoning the well” and ad hominem attacks. This is, unfortunately, the usual response to any critique of radical Catholic reactionary thinking. I do indeed get into some of the evidence, both here and in many other articles, as I will explain further below, but this piece is primarily not a book review per se; rather, it is a piece of religious sociology. I make this quite clear in the first section of my lengthy paper. It could hardly be missed (yet Flanders did somehow manage to miss all that):

I will be examining its blatant reactionary aspects and simply citing from the book (what might be called “sociological exposing of extremist elements”) and identifying plain and obvious examples of three of the four classic hallmarks of radical Catholic reactionary beliefs:

1) Pope-bashing (I will concentrate on bashing of popes other than Pope Francis).

2) Vatican II-bashing.

3) Pauline / New / “Novus Ordo” / ordinary form Mass-bashing.

[the fourth common element is ecumenism-bashing, which is also assuredly a strong motif in the book]

I’ve applied this same method of analysis / exposure to several of the “statements” against Pope Francis and books or articles that criticized Pope Francis and also other popes, Vatican II, and the New Mass: [many papers of mine along these lines listed and linked] . . .

In other words, to sum it up: “It ain’t just Pope Francis.” It’s radical Catholic reactionary conspiratorial / alarmist / fanatical thinking (to more or less degrees, depending on the document). That’s why — increasingly — those who attack Pope Francis also are frequently observed attacking Pope Benedict XVI, Pope St. John Paul II, Pope St. Paul VI, and Pope St. John XXIII (even sometimes Ven. Pope Pius XII, too), and/or Vatican II, and/or the ordinary form Mass.

Armstrong is willing to state that his critique is “not personal,” 

That’s correct, but of course, as with most criticism today, the recipients take it personally. This is just how it is in our postmodernist age, where everything is subjective, and dialogue becomes rarer and rarer . . .

but he ignores the salient points of Marshall’s work while attacking minor points. 

As noted, my intent was not to address the cogency or factuality of every conspiracy brought up in the book, but to highlight only certain deliberately chosen motifs. These are not merely “minor points”: they are important aspects that need to be examined and scrutinized.

For instance, his treatment of Nostra Aetate ignores the fact observed by Marshall that the document’s first drafter was the erring theologian Gregory Baum, whose sordid life is now known. The issue is not whether the documents can be interpreted in an orthodox manner — they can — but whether they include intentional, weaponized ambiguity.

“Ambiguity” is standard / stock / playbook reactionary rhetoric: applied to Vatican II and Pope Francis alike. In the end, it is irrelevant who drafted a particular document. The Bible was largely written by terrible sinners as well (Moses the murderer, David the adulterer and murder, Solomon, who espoused false, idolatrous religions and likely died apostate, Matthew the tax collector, Paul the persecutor and murderer of Christians, and Peter, who denied Christ three times). But it is also inspired revelation, so God protected it.

All that matters in ecumenical councils is the final result, voted on by the bishops. That is what is protected by the Holy Spirit, from doctrinal error. And even Flanders admits that not only this, but all  Vatican II documents “can be interpreted in an orthodox manner.”

And so, I am quite happy to discuss any of the documents with reactionary critics, to see whether in fact, a “heterodox” or “ambiguous” interpretation holds any water or makes sense. I did this in my section, “Vatican II Bashing.” I responded at some length to Taylor Marshall’s absurd charge:

Rahner introduced a new ecclesiology in which the Church of Christ is not the Catholic Church but rather “subsists in the Catholic Church.” This seems to contradict the teaching of Pope Pius XII in his 1943 encyclical Mystici Corporis . . . 

I also dealt at length with the reactionary boilerplate that Vatican II was merely “pastoral” (a quick, easy, and dumb way to dismiss it).  Moreover, not in this paper, but in others in the past month, I have directly taken on false charges against the alleged “ambiguity” or heretical teachings of various Vatican II documents:

Reactionary Louie Verrecchio’s Three Lies About Vatican II (dealing with ecumenism and religious liberty) [6-19-19]
Armstrong agrees with Mirus on the critique I will discuss below, including pointing out that no evidence proves that John Paul II gave permission for the sacrilege committed by pagans at Assisi. This is a fair point.
But using a lack of formal permission to dismiss the (at least) apparent and material approval of the pontiff for such a scandal is also unfair to Papa Wojtyla’s memory.
There is no evidence that Pope St. John Paul II approved any such thing. Marshall didn’t establish that at all. It’s not “unfair” to his memory to note that a false and unjust accusation is just that!
I think, overall, Marshall’s treatment of John Paul II is fair — pointing out all of the excesses of the ’80s without omitting the successes of the ’90s.
Marshall’s view (undoubtedly, though subtly and cleverly downplayed and muted in the book) is that Vatican II was a modernist council, and that popes since Pope St. John XXII were “men of the Council” and modernists as well. So this includes Pope St. John Paul II. Hence, Marshall writes against him, directly or indirectly (things I cited in this paper):

The liturgical, theological, and philosophical changes of Vatican II . . . were detrimental to the laity.

. . . the modernizing and liberalizing tendencies in doctrine, politics, and liturgy of Vatican II.

Maritain proposed a “new form” of Christendom, rooted in his philosophical, political, and religious pluralism. In brief, it was a prototype for the ideals and goals of Vatican II.

The engineers of Vatican II were Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, Hans Küng, Henri de Lubac, and Yves Congar. All five men were held under suspicion of Modernism under Pius XII. Karl Rahner, S.J. had a greater influence than any other on the theology Vatican II — so much so that one might say that Vatican II is simply Rahnerianism.

Devout Catholics often defend Vatican II by saying that it was “hijacked,” and that is certainly the case, but the question is when, and by whom. As will become clear, Pope John XXIII, and his favorites, Bugnini, Bea, and Montini [Pope St. Paul VI], had already set the optimistic new order, or novus ordo, agenda.

. . . he supported the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, . . . 

His pontificate is clearly conflicted, . . . the Freemasons sought to create (beginning in the mid-1800s) a climate among youth, seminarians, and young priests who grew up breathing the air of ecumenism, indifference to religious disagreements, and a mission for world brotherhood. John Paul II is the first pope who moved freely in these ideals . . . he drank deeply of Vatican II, . . . 

Some are convinced that John Paul II was not who we thought him to be.

It seems that what Mirus and Armstrong have done is attempt to swiftly silence any debate on this subject.

I’m all for constructive debate. I can’t find any significant follower of Taylor Marshall who is willing to do so. Nor is Dr. Marshall himself. I’ve critiqued him more than anyone else. But what has his response be so far?:

1) He blocked me on his Twitter page within 24 hours of the article under consideration.

2) He implied that my critiques were motivated merely by financial gain (“click bate” [sic] ).

3) He caricatured my critiques and those of the others above as merely ad hominem attacks or attacks on the publisher.

That’s some willingness to openly dialogue, isn’t it? Finally, after five weeks, at least one of Marshall’s defenders bravely ventures forth to deal with some of the critiques, but not Dr. Marshall himself, who remains missing in action.

Instead of discussing evidence, their critiques hinge on an unfortunate use of ad hominem: labeling Marshall’s work with a name — “conspiracy theory” — and asserting that an insult is sufficient to ignore evidence.

I made it clear that my purpose was not to discuss the various conspiracy theories in the book. I have no interest in them. I did mention one in passing, however:

The “Paul VI was a sodomite” conspiracy theory has been bandied about in many reactionary books and websites. By including it, Dr. Marshall “proves” to the reactionaries that he is definitely one of them. It takes a lot of hubris and chutzpah, indeed, to accuse a pope who is a saint — the very one who wrote the magnificently heroic, tradition-affirming Humanae Vitae at that — , of ongoing sodomy with a secret lover. To even mention such filth is a disgrace and an outrage.

As Fr. Longenecker’s review highlighted, I am not in the least opposed to the bare idea that the Church has been “infiltrated.” The question is in the details and facts and degrees. I didn’t really address this in my first long paper (here critiqued), but I did in my (censored) Amazon review, that was considered the “top review” for over two weeks, the top critical review, and the one that had the most “helpful votes” (over 250 before it was mysteriously removed. There I wrote, as the ending section:

Lastly, I agree that many groups have tried to infiltrate the Church. The radical homosexuals are the ones in our day. The liberals have been trying to wreck Catholicism since the French Revolution. My mentor, Servant of God Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ (who received me into the Church and enthusiastically endorsed my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism) said often that modernism is the culmination of all heresies, and that the modernist crisis is the greatest in the history of the Church. I agree 100%!

My response to that, though, is that the Church is led and protected by the Holy Spirit and is indefectible; therefore, all such attempts fail in the long run. Reactionaryism is the counsel of despair. The orthodox Catholic is always hopeful and believes that God is in control and that all things work together for good (Romans 8:28).

Conspiratorialism is a dead-end street; the fool’s way out, and a plain dumb and intellectually naive and vacant interpretation of very complex events and ideas. Much better is traditional Catholic grace-empowered faith: particularly in the indefectibility of the Church, God’s providence, and the scriptural knowledge that sinners are always present in the Church (parable of the wheat and tares, seven churches of Revelation, etc.).

In this vision and way of life, we know and believe that God is always in control and protects Holy Mother Church despite our repeated attempts to bring it down to the dirt and filth of human sin and nefarious aspirations for power, rebellion against God, and all the rest.

I have not delved into all these conspiracies, since it was not ever my goal or intention, but a good friend of mine, Paul Hoffer (an attorney and Catholic apologist) has embarked on a multi-part point-by-point examination of the conspiracies suggested in Infiltration (three parts done thus far):

A Chapter-by-Chapter Refutation of Dr. Taylor Marshall’s Book, Infiltration: The Plot to Destroy the Church from Within (+ Part II / III) (Paul Hoffer, starting on 6-9-19)

Undoubtedly, they would have censured the great Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand, Hammer of the Nazis, with the same unscholarly invective, since the latter was already talking about Freemasons in 1973. Indeed, reading Hildebrand shows exactly how inadequate ad hominem is in the shadow of this 20th-century giant.

Right. I have had about eight of his books in my library. I also talked at length with his wife Alice at a dinner party in 2000. And I guess this supposed hostility to Dr. Hildebrand is why I put out my article: Freemasonry? I’ve Had Links About it On My Site Since 2000 (I have vigorously opposed theological liberalism all this time, too) [6-5-19] I wrote in this paper:

I’m glad Taylor is educating Catholics about the danger of Freemasonry (including the infiltration of Catholic institutions). Welcome to the club, Taylor! I’ve been doing this for many years: as well as decrying theological liberalism from time immemorial (all the way back to 1982, as a Protestant apologist and researcher).

One can see my web page: “Theological Liberalism and Modernism (and “Dead” and “Nominal” Catholics)” in an archived version, dated 16 April 2000, filled with tons of links and many of my own articles on this dreadful error. Moreover, my book, Twin Scourges: Thoughts on Anti-Catholicism & Theological Liberalism dates from June 2003.

My concern and warnings about Freemasonry in particular have continued to the present time. On my site right now is the paper, “Catholic Refutations of Freemasonry (Collection of Links).” It is dated 6-28-10, back in the good ol’ days of Catholic unity, when Marshall still thought I was “one of the best cyber-apologists out there.” I added additional links on 9-26-16. It now contains 14 educational links.

The web page, “Liberal Theology & Modernism” is still there now, too.

So I have opposed this from the time before Taylor was even a Catholic [2006]. The difference is that I deny that Freemasonry has subverted an ecumenical council and popes. I think all such conspiracies to change the Catholic religion have failed. They’ve caused tons of damage to souls (I agree), but they haven’t succeeded in changing Church doctrine.

In conclusion, Flanders’ critique of my critique of Taylor Marshall scarcely deals with it at all. It ignores most of its stated purpose. But at least it is some semblance of an attempt (however weak and irrelevant). I’ll grant him that much. That’s already almost infinitely more than Taylor Marshall himself has done.


And of course, the combox savages me, as usual. I’ve already gone through this sort of silliness in the 17 or so days that my Amazon review was permitted to be publicly read on the book page. The comments were among the most ridiculous I have ever seen on any topic. The One Vader Five combox will likely soon surpass even that folly.

I posted a link to this paper in the combox, and it was allowed, but Big Cheese Steve Skojec showed up to lob his usual petty, small insults my way.


Photo credit: sunilkargwal (6-29-15) [PixabayPixabay License]



July 28, 2023

Including Documentation of His Stated Views & Mindless Smears Sent My Way in a Catholic World Report Combox

The background of this latest incident where Dr. Williams (his words will be in blue below) has taken it upon himself to personally attack my work and myself in a very public venue (The Catholic World Report) is the dispute between Catholic philosopher Dr. Ed Feser (words in green below) and Catholic apologist Michael Lofton (which I have dealt with at length in a Facebook post). The Catholic World Report has seen fit to publish (and endorse via its editor, Carl E. Olson) two articles from Dr. Feser critiquing  Michael Lofton (both had already been published on Feser’s very popular blog). Olson wrote in the combox of the longer of the two:

I’ve been following and reading Dr. Feser’s work for many years, and I have yet to see an instance in which he misrepresents people. On the contrary, he consistently quotes them at length and provides necessary context. The “I expect better of CWR” approach doesn’t fly in the face of the evidence.

I wrote in direct reply to this observation:

Hi Carl,

Hope you are well these days.

Does the following qualify as Dr. Feser misrepresenting people? Is it ad hominem or a sweeping personal attack?:

Longtime readers might recall Dave Armstrong, a Catholic apologist who, to put it gently, has a tendency to stretch the truth in bizarre ways. His odd behavior has even inspired a definition:

armstrong, verb. Boldly but casually to insinuate a falsehood in the hope that others will go along with it. “Dave tried to armstrong me into a debate. Can you believe that guy?

Well, Dave “Stretch” Armstrong is at it again.

[Title] “Dave’s armstronging again” (6-3-21 on his blog)

[complete with a ridiculous image of “Stretch Armstrong”]

Feser in this asinine hit-piece, stated that I “posted several logorrheic comments attempting to rationalize” my “mischaracterization of” his “views by way of telepathy.” And he ended with the ultra-condescending flourish, “If some of them . . . come to know what kind of a person Dave Armstrong is, that is Dave’s fault, not mine.”

Dr. Williams happily endorsed this cynical view:

Thanks for the link to the really good read. Feser’s blog article about your remarks and your tendencies is quite accurate. You can’t armstrong your way out of it either.

Michael Lofton was subject to the same disdainful treatment:

Lofton is a contrarian attention-seeker, but he is hardly alone in that capacity in the Youtube world of self-styled Catholic apologists. The medium fosters this approach, because everyone there has to get their “Likes” and “Subscribers.” If Dr. Feser had written an article making nearly the opposite points, I suspect Lofton would still have jumped in with contrarian views designed to agitate and intimidate the easily-impressed.

I also wrote in the same combox:

Personally attacking those who have an honest disagreement is not a good thing, and it’s not wrong to point it out.

This is the problem with Internet “discourse” today. When one tries to point out that ad hominem attacks are unethical, irrelevant (non sequiturs and logically fallacious), and pollute online discussion, instead of engaging the point and taking action to reform, the person critiqued and their followers almost always simply savage and attack the one making the critique: thus amply proving the original point . . .

Hence Christians online (in this case, Catholics against Catholics) now habitually engage [in] the usual secular tactics of “shouting down” any dissenter. This impresses no one who is interested in substantive discussion.

Then I replied to Dr. Williams’ potshot above:

Thanks for the classic, playbook example of precisely what I am talking about. It doesn’t matter whether the attack is against me. That’s irrelevant. My case was but an illustration and an example of how Dr. Feser sometimes behaves.

What matters is the scandal and terrible witness of Catholics attacking other Catholics in these inane, fatuous, vapid ways. It’s bearing false witness, and a mortal sin to boot. God is watching, and He’s not fooled by all the nonsense that passes for legitimate discussion. We’re accountable for all of our words and actions.

There is legitimate criticism and holding someone accountable (“faithful are the wounds of a friend”) and there is juvenile insults and worthless ad hominem garbage.

Undaunted, Dr. Williams doubled down:

It is remarkable how many times Armstrong and Lofton have posted on this thread. They have afforded themselves limitless occasions for expressing outrage at those who object to their methods, all people who – of course – are engaged in “mortal sin.” I would challenge anyone to try such argumentation on Armstrong’s and Lofton’s own domains and see how that works out for you.

Having had enough of this verbal diarrhea, I replied:

You are more than welcome to come onto my blog at any time and defend in debate with me the proposition: “Does Dave Armstrong Habitually ‘Stretch the Truth’ and Lie and Descend to Sophistry, Since Dr. Feser has Declared So?”
You have free access to my 4,300 + online articles, and I’ll even give you free e-book files of any of my 51 books, to help you in your noble endeavor to document the truthfulness of Dr. Feser’s claims, which you have gleefully and manfully endorsed in this combox. All of your words will appear on my blog for all to see, just as I have done for most of my more than a thousand back-and-forth debates on my blog.
Then when we’re done with that, I’ll be more than happy to host on my blog a second debate between you and Michael Lofton, where you would defend the proposition, “Is Michael Lofton Obliged to Shut Down His Full-Time Catholic Apologetics Ministry Because Dr. Feser Declares That He Ought Not Write About Theology At All, As a Result of His Outrageously Daring to Express an Honest Disagreement with Dr. Feser, and That Lofton’s Replies to Him in Protest Against Alleged ‘Libel’ [the non-legal definition, mind you] Are Worthless ‘Dreck’ [a potshot on Twitter] etc.?”
[Dr. Feser had, after all, written at the end of the article under consideration:

Well, as the Scholastics and the pre-Vatican II popes who commended Scholasticism emphasized, training in philosophy is a prerequisite to doing theology well. The reason is that it disciplines the intellect, teaching one to use words precisely, to make careful conceptual distinctions, to reason with logical exactness, and to evaluate texts and arguments with caution and charity.

Lofton’s response to my article provides evidence that he is lacking in these capacities. Hence I’d suggest that he might consider sticking to his own lane, which is making facile YouTube videos – but about topics other than theology, which requires levels of rigor and charity that he appears to lack.]

Anytime you’re ready to do that, just drop me a line.
Oh, by the way, I have been published in this magazine twice [one / two], and editor Carl E. Olson reviewed my book, The One-Minute Apologist (Sophia Institute Press, 2007) at National Catholic Register (8-21-07), writing:
This book is commendable for being pithy and precise while never being either simplistic or dense, an indication of how well Armstrong knows his subject matter and his audience. In fact, this is the sort of book that could only be written by someone who has spent countless hours studying, articulating and discussing the Catholic faith, to the point that he knows how to accurately answer questions and clearly correct misunderstandings. . . .
The writing is punchy but never pugnacious. . . . Accessible and substantial, The One-Minute Apologist will help readers in need of timely answers. And, just as important, it should serve as an inviting introduction to the richness and fullness of the Catholic Faith.
So I guess I don’t need to shut down my full-time apologetics ministry (active now for over twenty-one years). And — contra Dr. Feser — I don’t think [soon to be Dr.] Michael Lofton needs to do so, either, simply because Dr. Feser says so.
Sorry for making yet another comment here, as pitiable evidence of the “remarkable” frequency of same. My bad . . .
Thanks again to Carl and CWR for allowing dissenting opinions to be expressed.
Now, personally, I think it would be worthwhile to document some of Timothy J. Williams’ extremist, radical Catholic reactionary viewpoints, seeing that he has taken it upon himself to savage my apologetics apostolate in a very public Catholic place. A man’s prior dubious views often predispose him to say idiotic things about others who don’t hold to the same views, and who, indeed, are solidly orthodox and faithful in every Catholic sense of those words.
Dr. Timothy J. Williams, is, or has been (not sure which) a professor of French at the Franciscan University of Steubenville (see his Curriculum Vitae). He also has a master’s degree in music and has composed. Thus we see that — admirable as these accomplishments are — he has no formal training in theology, and is hardly the one (also not being my priest or bishop) to decide whether my apologetics work is of such a low and dishonest quality that I should cease writing.

He has written fifteen “recent” articles for Crisis Magazine, which is a radical Catholic reactionary venue. He also has at least two articles published at One Peter Five, which has always been a reactionary outlet as well. Despite our differences of opinion, I am friends with Timothy Flanders, the editor of One Peter Five, and have engaged in several cordial, substantive debates with him. It is actually possible to talk across “party lines.” Timothy recognizes that we are both serious Catholics, and that’s enough for him (and vice versa).

The extremity of Dr. Williams’ theological / ecclesiological views are seen — ironically and conveniently enough — in another combox of The Catholic World Report. Let’s take a look at it, shall we? On February 26, 2021, Douglas Bushman wrote an article for that magazine entitled, “How should we think about Vatican II?” It was a defense of the orthodoxy of the council, and its continuity with Catholic tradition. Dr. Williams’ comments in the combox reveal quite clearly where he stands regarding the authority and veracity of this ecumenical council:
It is hard to believe that this sort of article is still being written in 2021. For some people at least, the human mind has an infinite capacity to delude itself in the search for comfort. Nowhere outside of academia – universities, institutes, schools of theology – is this sort of nonsense still believed. The remaining members of the dwindling remnant of the Church have moved on. We know that only a radical “about face” can salvage what was lost, what was destroyed by Vatican II. (2-27-21, 9:53 AM)
I tried to read them [the documents of Vatican II] all. I really did. I got through only Sacrosanctum Concilium and Lumen Gentium. The rest I read only here and there. It was insufferable boredom. What is most apparent is that the sheer number and length of the documents . . . were intended to confuse and to conceal, to allow the implementation of the Council to take whatever shape the modernists wished. Somewhere, in all that verbiage, a line or two can be found (and have been found) to justify everything. (2-27-21, 12:32 PM) [note how — as is true of many of these anti-Vatican II naysayers — he barely read the documents at all]
The problem I have with this “real Council” vs. “false spirit” argument is simply that the same prelates who approved the documents of Vatican II also implemented them in their respective dioceses, leading to our present shipwreck. If those who read and signed the documents “misinterpreted” them, what possible value could these documents have? (2-27-21, 8:08 PM)
Bushman’s article was reprinted at The Catholic World Report on 12 February 2023. Williams, true to form, had choice words for it again, on that occasion, in the following “Valentine”:
I am curious to know why this article is being resuscitated at this time? Are we supposed to give one last consideration to the hackneyed “authentic Council vs. false ‘spirit’ of the Council” idea? I used to hold to that, until I realized that the same Church periti who crafted the documents of the Council and the bishops who voted to approve them went home to their various dioceses and implemented the Council according to their understanding of those documents… and with the catastrophic results only a sightless fool can deny. We can argue and debate all we want concerning the state of the Faith prior to the Council, and what may or may not have been needed to revive the Faith in the hearts and minds of the faithful. What we CANNOT argue is that Vatican II was the medicine for our age, the gift of the Holy Spirit, yadda yadda yadda. I red pilled on that nonsense twenty years ago. (2-14-23, 8:04 AM) [note here that Dr. Williams repudiated the Second Vatican Council as far back as 2003. This is no “post Francis disillusionment” phenomenon. No, Williams is an old-school reactionary — I was refuting them back then, too — , who has spewed this toxic garbage for more than two decades now]
The really interesting and revealing two cents’ worth from Dr. Williams comes under an article posted at the reactionary site Rorate Caeli, which was a hit piece on Pope Francis on his first day in office: 13 March 2013 (!). I later discovered that the key source in the article, Marcelo González, is a Holocaust denier.
Rorate Caeli has disabled its comment section: a practice followed by many reactionary sites, including One Peter Five and Crisis Magazine. I sure understand why; it’s because of relentless comments like those of Williams, that I am presently documenting. Comments on reactionary sites are the worst imaginable “PR” for the reactionary cause. Here is what our brave weaver of words wrote:
I am a Roman Rite Catholic who has attended a Byzantine Liturgy for the past 18 years, because the Roman liturgy in my diocese changes with every new breeze. . . . Now, I am a hard-core Trad. But what is amazing is that there are many, more “moderate” Catholic parents doing exactly the same thing I am doing. And yet, our Catholic sensibilities have been so poisoned by Vatican II and the Novus Ordo that we hardly even recognize the monstrosity of this situation. Even good Catholics think of things as almost “normal” or “getting better”! And people wonder why Bishop Fellay hesitates! The only reasonable hope for the Papacy of Francis is that he will will not do considerably more damage than his predecessors. Any expectation beyond that is simply delusional. Oremus! (3-13-13)
Note three extraordinary things here: his antipathy to the “Novus Ordo” [“New” / Pauline / “ordinary form”] Mass, which is in addition to his vehement opposition to Vatican II; his belief that Pope Francis’ “predecessors” (one of whom is a saint) did “damage” to the Church, and the fact that he was already trashing and being cynical about Pope Francis on literally his first day in office, before he had done anything at all.
I’m unable to access the original at Internet Archive. Fortunately, I preserved Williams’ words at the time (an article of mine dated 20 September 2017). Reactionaries always reveal their own true stripes. One just has to know where to look, to find them.
When we understand that a person is an extremist, fringe Catholic, far out of the mainstream, then their slanderous attacks against faithful, orthodox members and defenders of Holy Mother Church and the Holy Father (whomever he may be), like myself and Michael Lofton, are put into much clearer perspective. We defend the things and persons that Dr. Williams savages, and so he throws crap at us as a result, since he seems to be either unable or unwilling to form a cogent, coherent rational argument on these topics.
With utter predictability, Dr. Williams responded to my long comment at CWR:
Do you not realize all this is starting to sound a little… unhinged?
And I replied:

Yes, of course you would think that. And of course you attack my work, seeing that you detest Vatican II and the New Mass, and this pope and the two previous ones: things and people that I am proud — and duty-bound — to defend, as a Catholic apologist. My next blog paper will document all of this (most of it drawn from your past comments in this very venue).

This is why you oppose me, because you can’t tolerate what I stand for. It’s as simple as that (in case anyone was wondering what you had against me).



Practical Matters: Perhaps some of my 4,300+ free online articles (the most comprehensive “one-stop” Catholic apologetics site) or fifty-three books have helped you (by God’s grace) to decide to become Catholic or to return to the Church, or better understand some doctrines and why we believe them.
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Photo credit: Rory112233 (8-21-17) [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]


Summary: Documentation of radical reactionary (anti-Vatican II / anti-New Mass / anti-papal) views of Dr. Timothy J. Williams: public trasher of my character and apostolate.


March 8, 2024

Contra John Martignoni’s Repeated Claims to the Contrary

Catholic apologist John Martignoni has stated no less than seven times in public (in his newsletter, which he told me has 70,000 subscribers, and on his website) that I classified Bishop Strickland and/or Cardinal Burke as “heretics” or called them that term or thought it (line breaks represent a break in the text):

. . . essentially accusing Bp. Strickland of being a heretic . . .

So, here was Dave Armstrong essentially calling Bp. Strickland, and Cardinal Burke, a couple of heretics.

There is no need for all the public rancor and the public attacks and calling people reactionaries and heretics and the like. Does absolutely no good.

. . . there is absolutely no reason to call Bp. Strickland a heretic, or to even strongly imply it. (“Apologetics for the Masses #466 – Pope Francis, Bp. Strickland, Papal Indefectibility, and…Dave Armstrong”)

Okay, so why am I saying that Armstrong appears to be misunderstanding the Church’s teaching on Papal Indefectibility (and/or Papal Infallibility) based on his FB posts that I’ve quoted above?  It’s because he is disagreeing with Cdl. Burke’s tweet.  Again, Cdl. Burke said the following: “If your bishop, or the supreme pastor of the Church, is affirming things not in accord with Sacred Tradition/the deposit of the faith, that can’t command your obedience. You can’t command obedience to do something against faith & morals.”  Armstrong disagrees with that.  In fact, he disagrees with that so strongly that he is, for all intents and purposes, saying anyone who agrees with that statement is rejecting the Church’s dogmatic teaching on the Pope.  I.e., that person is a heretic.

That’s where he started begging off about the questions being too complex, and matters of canon law, and that he defers to others who are more qualified in such matters.  Well, if you aren’t qualified enough to answer these questions, then how can you be qualified enough to essentially deem Bp. Strickland and Cdl. Burke to be heretics who deny Papal Indefectibility and the authority of the Pope?!

So, Dave is, essentially, accusing Bp. Strickland and Cdl. Burke of heresy…of rejecting Papal Indefectibility. (“Apologetics for the Masses #469 – Pope Francis, Bp. Strickland, Papal Indefectibility, and…Dave Armstrong (Part 4)”; see also Part 2 and Part 3 of the ongoing soap opera)

In fact, I did no such thing. One can consult my Facebook thread where this disagreement began, or a second part, or a third, and the words “heresy” or “heretic” never appear at all (from me) in them, let alone as applied to either of these two men. I never made the claim. I have exactly two articles about Bp. Strickland on my blog:

Tragic Bp. Strickland & Reaction from the Usual Suspects [11-14-23]

Bishop Strickland: The Writing Was on the Wall [Catholic365, 11-16-23]

To the best of my recollection, I had never written about him prior to this time (I scarcely even knew who he was). In the article above dated 11-14-23, the word “heresy” appears once, and it’s describing Strickland’s view of the pope (not mine of him). I cited Mike Lewis writing, “He also signed an open letter [dated 9-16-22] last year accusing Pope Francis of teaching heresy“. In the second, which Martignoni has cited as evidence of his mythical belief in alleged claims that I made, the words “heresy” or “heretic” never appear at all. It’s pretty difficult and foolish to claim that someone classified another as a heretic, when they never even used the word.

Martignoni contends that the following statement of mine on my Facebook page (the title of the post and thread where this tempest in a teapot began) proves that I classified Strickland as a heretic:

What is the difference between Bishop Strickland and Martin Luther? The first claims to acknowledge papal authority but then rejects it at his convenience; the second is honest and not conflicted about rejecting papal authority.

One can make an analogy without intending (nor is it logically necessary to conclude) that the two things or persons being compared are absolutely the same in all respects. My (I think, obvious) point was  that one man was consistent with regard to popes and the other was not. One rejected papal authority altogether (as a Protestant); the second only did inconsistently, as a Catholic who ought to obey papal authority. That was my point. It wasn’t a point about papal infallibility or indefectibility, but about papal authority: a much broader area. “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” That’s what I always try to do. It was a million miles away from claiming that the Catholic man is a heretic, as Luther was, because one can disobey papal authority in several ways without being a heretic (some might involve, for example, schism rather than heresy).

If I thought Bp. Strickland was a heretic, I certainly would have called him one. Pretty much anyone, I think, who has read much of my writing at all knows that I am not the type who minces words or is reluctant to express even a “controversial” opinion. I try to be charitable at all times, but that’s a different thing from being straightforward or a “straight shooter.” I am those things, too. James wrote “let your yes be yes and your no be no” (Jas 5:12). Good traits for an apologist and for all Christians!

Martignoni’s strongest statement on the topic is “he is [yours truly!], for all intents and purposes, saying anyone who agrees with that statement is rejecting the Church’s dogmatic teaching on the Pope.  I.e., that person is a heretic.” Here he is claiming that I have classified papal indefectibility as a dogma. But in my article at Catholic365 (linked above, and that he presumably read, since he mentioned it), I specifically differentiated the two teachings on the pope and error:

. . . the doctrine of papal indefectibility, which was proclaimed at Vatican I (One) in 1870, at the same time it decreed papal infallibility as a de fide dogma.

Catholic dogmatic theologian Robert Fastiggi (translator and editor of the latest 2012 edition of Denzinger’s Enchiridion: the standard  source for determining what the Church teaches) — and a personal friend of mine — has again helpfully clarified the issue of papal indefectibility, in a piece that will shortly be hosted and posted on my own blog. He wrote about this question:

I never claimed that Vatican I defined the indefectibility of the Roman Pontiff.  I believe, though, that it affirms this teaching in Pastor Aeternus, chapter IV, when it teaches that “in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been preserved immaculate and sacred doctrine honored” (Denz.-H, 3066). In the same chapter of Vatican I, it is likewise stated that “this See of St. Peter always remains untainted by any error, according to the divine promise of our Lord and Savior made to the prince of the disciples: ‘But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren’ (Lk 22:32)” [Denz.-H. 3070]. The possibility of a heretical pope is likewise rejected by Vatican I, when it affirms that the “charism of truth and never-failing faith was conferred upon Peter and his successors in this chair in order that they may perform their supreme office for the salvation of all” [Denz.-H, 3071]. (emphasis added).

What seemed true to Suárez and Bellarmine has been affirmed by an ecumenical council. How can these words of Vatican I be reconciled with a Pope teaching heresy? Some claim the pope is protected from heresy only when he teaches ex cathedra. But this is not what Vatican I says. . . . Heresy is the denial or calling into doubt a truth that must be believed with divine and Catholic faith. . . . I do agree that we need to give a benevolent interpretation of what Bishop Strickland and Cardinal Burke have said. They seem to assume that a pope can teach heresy. Well, that is their opinion, and their opinion is not infallible, and I argue that their opinion is not that of Vatican I. Unfortunately, the affirmation of papal indefectibility and the divine protection of popes from teaching heresy does seem to not be adequately understood today. . . . The simple fact remains that the Magisterium has never affirmed that popes can teach heresy, and the letter of Pope Agatho and Vatican I seem to rule out that possibility.
The late great Servant of God Fr. John A. Hardon, S. J., my mentor, who received me into the Church, wrote the glowing Foreword to my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, and baptized my first two sons, wrote a reference work called Modern Catholic Dictionary (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1980). I often use it for the sake of producing solid, orthodox Catholic definitions. It defines “Doctrine” as follows (p. 168):

Any truth taught by the Church as necessary for acceptance by the faithful. The truth may be either formally revealed (as the Real Presence), or a theological conclusion (as the canonization of a saint), or part of the natural law (as the sinfulness of contraception). In any case, what makes it doctrine is that the Church authority teaches that it is to be believed. This teaching may be done either solemnly in ex cathedra pronouncements or ordinarily in the perennial exercise of the Church’s magisterium or teaching authority.

An ecumenical council, ratified by the pope, is certainly “the Church’s magisterium or teaching authority.” In fact it is the extraordinary magisterium. Vatican I teaches papal indefectibility. It’s just not at the highest level of authority (ex cathedra or de fide dogma). Nonetheless, it is to be adhered to by Catholics, as an official teaching of the magisterium (which has never taught otherwise, if we accept Dr. Fastiggi’s word on that). This is according to Canon 752 in the Code of Canon Law:

Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

This is why radical Catholic reactionaries (especially Peter Kwasniewski and the folks at the website One Peter Five) are at present trying to delegitimize the authority of Vatican I, precisely because they don’t like its teachings on papal infallibility and indefectibility (yet they are required to give the latter “a religious submission of the intellect and will”). Dogmas are on a higher level still. Here is Fr. Hardon’s definition:

Doctrine taught by the Church to be believed by all the faithful as part of divine revelation. All dogmas, therefore, are formally revealed truths and promulgated as such by the Church. they are revealed either in Scripture or tradition, either explicitly (as the Incarnation) or implicitly (as the Assumption). Moreover, their acceptance by the faithful must be proposed as necessary for salvation. They may be taught by the Church in a solemn manner, as with the definition of the Immaculate Conception, or in an ordinary way, as with the constant teaching on the malice of taking innocent human life. (pp. 168-169)

This distinction has a relation to what it means to be classified as a “heretic.” It specifically has to do with rejection of dogmas. Fr. Hardon defines “heresy”:

In the Roman Catholic Church, heresy has a very specific meaning. Anyone who, after receiving baptism, while remaining nominally a Christian, pertinaciously denies or doubts any of the truths that must be believed with divine and Catholic faith is considered a heretic. Accordingly four elements must be verified to constitute formal heresy; previous valid baptism, which need not have been in the Catholic Church; external profession of still being a Christian, otherwise a person becomes an apostate; outright denial or positive doubt regarding a truth that the Catholic Church has actually proposed as revealed by God; and the disbelief must be morally culpable, where a nominal Christian refuses to accept what he knows is a doctrinal imperative.

Objectively, therefore, to become a heretic in the strict canonical sense and be excommunicated from the faithful, one must deny or question a truth that is taught not merely on the authority of the Church but on the word of God revealed in the Scriptures or sacred tradition. Subjectively a person must recognize his obligation to believe. If he acts in good faith, as with most persons brought up in non-Catholic surroundings, the heresy is only material and implies neither guilt nor sin against faith. (p. 247)

Likewise, Canon 751 in Book III of the Code of Canon Law: “Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith . . .” I simply have not accused either Bp. Strickland or Cdl. Burke of being heretics. Moreover, I have written very critically of the group that I have myself coined “radical Catholic reactionaries,” but am very careful not to call them even schismatics. I always try to be very meticulous and consistent in these matters of proper terminology. I will usually use the term “quasi-schismatics.” That is, ones who are arguably getting dangerously close to schism, but have not yet crossed that canonical line. So, for example, here is a typical broad statement from a past article of mine concerning Catholic reactionaries:

I define “radical Catholic reactionaries” as a rigorist, divisive group completely separate from mainstream “traditionalism” that continually, vociferously, and vitriolically (as a marked characteristic or defining trait) bashes and trashes popes, Vatican II, the New Mass, and ecumenism (the “big four”): going as far as they can go without technically crossing over the canonical line of schism.

In other words, I don’t even call those on the right side of the ecclesiastical spectrum (ones who call themselves — rightly or wrongly — Catholic traditionalists) “schismatics” let alone “heretics.” Anyone who has followed my writings about them, which have been published for over 25 years (including two books on the topic) knows that.

A Google Advanced Search of my blog for the word “heretic” reveals how rarely and specifically I use the term. I have used it, for example, with regard to Eastern Patriarchs in the early centuries who were guilty of serious Christological errors such as Arianism, Monophysitism, or Monothelitism, and for the “pantheist heretic” Michael Servetus. I rarely use it of any living person, except for maybe Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, because of their denial of the Holy Trinity. It’s simply not the way that I talk, and it’s ludicrous for anyone to imply that it is, or to make the charge that I allegedly applied the term to Strickland or Burke.

If John Martignoni continues with this misguided accusation he will only harm himself and his readers. The ones freely slinging the word “heretic” around are the vitriolic critics of the pope, not myself. Projecting their tragically mistaken mentality onto me doesn’t solve anything. Even Catholic philosopher Ed Feser, no big friend of the pope, wrote on his blog on 3-5-24: “No one has succeeded in showing that Pope Francis is a formal heretic.”


See the related articles:

Pope Francis Accusers Reject Magisterial Teaching on Popes (The pope’s teaching is indefectible and cannot be judged or “overruled” by any man: or even an ecumenical council) [7-23-20]

Dialogue #7 w 1P5 Columnist Timothy Flanders (Highlighting Papal Indefectibility, Pastor Aeternus from Vatican I in 1870, & the “Charitable Anathema”) [12-1-20]

Papal Indefectibility: Dr. Fastiggi vs. Fr. Z [3-11-21]




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Summary: Catholic apologist John Martignoni insists that I regard Bp. Strickland & Cdl. Burke as “heretics.” This is patently, utterly false & I provide several reasons for why it is.

December 18, 2023

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Pedro Gabriel is an oncologist who is also a very fine Catholic apologist. In this book, he pinpoints the serious underlying and presuppositional problems of the extreme sectors of the traditionalist movement in Catholicism, by use of brilliant Newmanesque analogies from past historical movements related to the Catholic Church. He demonstrates how, ironically, these reactionaries are tragically attempting to defend what they deem to be “tradition” when in fact, they have actually embraced heresy — particularly the denial of the indefectibility of the pope and ecumenical councils. Dr. Gabriel does not write, however, as someone who is opposed to tradition per se. Quite the contrary, as he makes clear in the book’s Introduction:

Tradition . . . is a treasure of priceless value that I wish to see appreciated in its unadulterated entirety—including the traditions of papal primacy and Church indefectibility, so attacked during recent years. (p. 16)

This disposes of the very common complaint that every critic of traditionalist extremes is supposedly not approaching the matter from a standpoint of orthodoxy, but rather, as modernists or theological liberals. So, for example, on page 23 he observes, “the traditionalists have claimed the word ‘tradition’ for themselves and labeled any disagreement with them as ‘anti-traditional,’ even if it comes from a priest or bishop.” This is not true in general and it isn’t in Dr. Gabriel’s own case. He draws a very important distinction in this regard on page 34:

Modernism affirms that parts of divine tradition must be abandoned to fit with modern times. On the contrary, Catholicism says that tradition must remain unchanged, but the way tradition is expressed can change. Modernism postulates that we must get on with the times because nothing is eternal. Catholicism firmly asserts that there are eternal realities, but they must be conveyed in a way the temporal will understand.

Orthodox tradition develops what is always essentially present, whereas modernist counterfeit so-called “tradition” evolves into something different from what was before. Likewise, on page 43, Dr. Gabriel identifies the “major premise” of his book, that is, “those who seek a more profound tradition are often seen as being anti-tradition.” He rhetorically flips this on its head, in stating, “it would be equally anti-traditional to discard the Second Vatican Council’s developments, for these too belong to the entirety of tradition . . . part of the unbroken chain of living tradition going back to the apostles” (p. 50). Later in his book, he summarizes:

The thesis of this book is that those who dissent from orthodoxy as defined by the Catholic Church often claim that they are the ones holding to the traditional position. (p. 176)

And even more eloquently, after painstakingly providing many historical parallels, he writes alone the same lines, in a delightfully Chestertonian fashion:

[W]e have seen . . . a tradition running deeper than mere restatements of ancient texts and pronouncements. This is the tradition of doctrinal development, always expanding, even in surprising directions, . . .

However, alongside this venerable tradition, we have also seen another counter-parallel tradition—or rather, an anti-tradition. It is the anti-traditional tradition of traditionalism. Whenever a development is at hand, forces of resistance will inevitably emerge to stifle the growth of living tradition, while non-authoritatively claiming guardianship over tradition. (p. 252)

Dr. Gabriel in his Introduction also grapples with the equally important and controversial issue of distinguishing between different parties within traditionalism:

I want to clarify an ambiguity that may arise from my use of the word “traditionalist.” Sometimes, the word “traditionalist” is employed simply to denote a Catholic who likes to attend an older form of the Roman rite. Such a Catholic is not necessarily against the current magisterium and may be faithfully obedient to the specifications laid out by the present pope. Therefore, I have made a distinction between “traditionalists” and “radical traditionalists” elsewhere.  Other authors have made similar distinctions. [here he cites yours truly] The former would be Catholics who exercise their liturgical preferences in perfect harmony with Pope and Council. The latter would be the Catholics who reject, in some way or another, the current pope or Vatican II.

I have nothing but sympathy for the legitimate traditionalists . . . My book is concerned solely with so-called radical traditionalists. (pp. 16-17)

Here I would respectfully offer  a slight or minor criticism of methodology only. Dr. Gabriel drew the important distinction between different kinds of traditionalists, but then decided to use the term “traditionalist” throughout his book (it appears 172 times), meaning, specifically, “radical traditionalist” (i.e., one who rejects popes and councils, etc.). I think in so doing, he leaves himself open to massive misunderstanding, as legitimate traditionalists will see his use of the word “traditionalist” — especially if the book is cited elsewhere — and think that he is referring to them — to the larger movement as a whole — rather than to only the radicals.

I personally know a lot about this phenomenon because I have been subject to such criticisms myself, for over 25 years, while I sought, as a Catholic apologist, to critique radical traditionalism. It was for this reason that I coined the term radical Catholic reactionary (also shortened to reactionary) in 2012, precisely in order to prevent insulting those traditionalists towards whom I have a great affinity and affection, as Dr. Gabriel does. I also wanted to make it clear in my coined term that I didn’t deny that such folks were Catholics. Descriptions and labels are necessary so that crucial distinctions are made clear. I hope terminology doesn’t become a frustrating issue for Dr. Gabriel, as he receives critical feedback regarding this excellent book.

In chapter 4, Dr. Gabriel hones in on a very disturbing, and indeed sinful widespread characteristic of the severe critics of Pope Francis, utilizing his prototype of a radical traditionalist, “Tom”:

Tom knew that Pope Francis would say something orthodox once in a while. His traditionalist friends had explained that this was all a part of Bergoglio’s strategy. By being ambiguous, Francis could allow his liberal friends to wreak havoc on the Church, while maintaining a certain plausible deniability that he had ever said anything heterodox. A diabolical strategy! —so Tom would say. Soon, his traditionalist friends were telling him that a similar strategy of weaponized ambiguity had also been employed during Vatican II to promote modernist teachings that went against the perennial teaching of the Church. (pp. 64-65)

I had noticed this as a prominent tendency and glaring fault in Phil Lawler’s pope-bashing book, Lost Shepherd, which I critiqued in considerable depth in January 2018. I noticed a technique that Lawler repeatedly employed: he would second-guess the pope and question his motives. This allowed him to make charges that were independent of objective fact; thus opening the door to virtually any charge at all. This quintessentially subjective, postmodernist mentality has now — very sadly and tragically — become virtually ubiquitous among the vehement pope-bashers, who will often write things along the lines of, “well, he [the pope] really means so-and-so [some imagined heterodox or subversive belief]; we can’t just go by what he wrote in document X . . .,” etc.

Needless to say, this is an exceedingly sinful outlook and spirit; all the more so when applied to the Holy Father of the Catholic Church. And as Dr. Gabriel noted, the same subjectivist mush has also frequently been employed as a weapon against Vatican II. Moreover, in my dealings with this thinking, I have made analogies to atheists’ criticism of the Bible, which they regard as not only “ambiguous” but also massively self-contradicting.

How ironic, then, that the hallmark of radical traditionalist or reactionary thought today is a postmodernist, atheist-like cynical skepticism. What atheists apply to the Bible and Christianity as a whole, radical traditionalists apply to popes and councils. This is all utterly contrary to St. Paul’s biblical injunctions to “in humility count others better than yourselves” (Phil 2:3, RSV), and to exercise love, which “believes all things, hopes all things” (1 Cor 13:7), and his sweeping advice: “You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people” (Acts 23:5; citing Ex 22:28). Indeed, St. Paul teaches that “revilers” will not even “inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:10).

The pope-bashers of today are nothing if not revilers. They endanger their own souls, because they make holy things their specific targets (the pope and ecumenical councils, now including also Vatican I), which is blasphemy (a thing not confined only to God). Jude states that those who “set up divisions” are “worldly people, devoid of the Spirit” (Jude 1:9). St. Paul adds, “take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them” (Rom 16:17).

These are not trifles. It’s a very serious business. And Dr. Gabriel is providing a crucially important — and loving — service, in exposing these momentous errors and hence, helping people to avoid viewpoints that may very well ensnare their very souls and lead them — and those who follow them — away from a robust, confident faith in God and in God’s guidance of His holy Church.

Another common thread of reactionary anti-Francis thought is the belief that this pope is, well, not very theologically advanced. Dr. Gabriel takes note of this:

There is a prevalent belief among his critics that Francis is theologically unsophisticated. His supposed lack of theological savviness is contrasted with his predecessor’s theological acumen. Nothing could be further from the truth. (p. 68)

He then provides background information on the Holy Father’s education and formation, to show that this, too, is a lie.

In chapter 6, Dr. Gabriel addresses the vexed question of capital punishment. It’s claimed by critics of the pope in this regard (notably, Catholic philosopher Ed Feser, who wrote an entire book about it) that Pope Francis has dramatically contradicted past Catholic tradition, and is now asserting that the death penalty is inherently immoral. But this is a falsehood, as Dr. Gabriel explains:

The Church had traditionally taught that states could take recourse to the death penalty! How could she now be declaring that the death penalty was intrinsically evil?

Justin very calmly pointed out that “intrinsically evil” and “inadmissible” were not synonymous. The former referred to an act that could never be morally justified, not even in principle, whereas the latter referred to all its practical applications at a given time. This was, in fact, what John Paul II had tried to do. Francis had simply moved from “practically non-existent” to “non-existent in practice.” (p. 113)

The distinction involved here is not “rocket science.” Yet Dr. Feser even subtly tries to equate “intrinsically evil” and “inadmissible”. Commenting on the revised Catechism’s use of the word “inadmissible” he recently wrote:

This might be read as implying that capital punishment is intrinsically wrong, which would contradict scripture and two thousand years of magisterial teaching.

“Might be read”?! This is just silly and an embarrassment. The two words clearly have different meanings. If we look up “admissible” on, the definition given is “that may be allowed or conceded; allowable” and “capable or worthy of being admitted.” On, the strongest synonyms listed are “allowed,  justifiable, permissible, pertinent, relevant.” Likewise, “inadmissible” is defined as “not admissible; not allowable.” And its strongest synonyms are “immaterial, improper, inappropriate, irrelevant, objectionable, unacceptable, undesirable, unreasonable.”
Clearly, none of these definitions imply any remote implication of “intrinsic” qualities. Yet Dr. Feser, a professional philosopher somehow remarkably thinks that there is an implied equation, even though the definition of “intrinsic” at is “belonging to a thing by its very nature.” And the primary synonym for it is “essentially.” We can either go by the objective definitions of words (the purpose of dictionaries) or we can play the second-guessing or “false equivalence” games in order to promote a false narrative. For a Catholic to do so with regard to a pope is neither logical nor pious.
Other Pope Francis critics adopt the tactic I noted above: second-guessing the Holy Father’s “true” motives and in effect accuse him of equivocation, rather than objectively going by what he actually wrote. Dr. Gabriel cited a pathetic, disgraceful instance of this by Fr. George Rutler:
Pope Francis uses the term “inadmissible” to describe the death penalty, although it has no theological substance, and by avoiding words such as “immoral” or “wrong” inflicts on discourse an ambiguity similar to parts of Amoris Laetitia. The obvious meaning is that capital punishment is intrinsically evil, but to say so outright would be too blatant. (p. 113, footnote 16; from his article in The Catholic World Report, dated 12-18-18)
Fr. Rutler doesn’t even stop there. He continues lecturing the pope as if he knows nothing of Catholic tradition. He describes the Holy Father’s views as “incoherent and dangerous” in his title, and writes:
Pope Francis says that his innovative teaching “does not imply any contradiction” of the Church’s tradition but, one has to say reluctantly, it indeed does. The shift cannot be called a legitimate development of doctrine . . .
This is absolutely outrageous, and blatantly contradicts the teaching of Vatican I on papal indefectibility. But even the objection to the word “inadmissible” is an empty charge. Dr. Gabriel cites (on p. 113, footnote 18) an article from his colleague, Mike Lewis, that disposed of this groundless objection, too. Lewis cites examples of eight people, including Fr. Rutler, who objected to the term “inadmissible” as non-magisterial, “ambiguous,” a “novel term with no fixed meaning,” “new,” and “a solecism in moral theology.” One person claimed that the word didn’t appear elsewhere in the Catechism. This is untrue. Different translations of #2296 (having to do with certain issues regarding organ transplants and organ donors) have “inadmissible” or “Not morally admissible” (see also a second example).
Lewis then provided examples of past use of the word, in Pope Pius XI, Pope St. Paul VI (three times: one / two / three), Pope St. John Paul II (five times: one / two / three / four / five), and twice (one / two) from Pope Benedict XVI. In an update, Lewis noted that folks had complained that he “only cited one pre-1970 magisterial reference.” So he did some more searching and found 17 references in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, one from Ven. Pope Pius XII in 1950, and a second use from Pope Pius XI in 1931. I myself also found fifteen usages of “inadmissible” in the Church fathers.

Moreover, I searched the word “intrinsic” on the Holy See website for Pope Francis only, and got 66 hits. The pope is not averse to the word at all. If his actual intention were to describe the death penalty in that way, there is little reason to believe that he wouldn’t have done so. He also has used “intrinsically immoral” four times and “intrinsically evil” 17 times.

Dr. Gabriel draws many instructive analogies in his book, but the most striking is when he starts providing examples of our Lord Jesus and His conflicts with the Pharisees in chapter 11:
The Pharisees . . . boasted of being perfect in the observance of the law. Now this Jesus had come along, telling ordinary people that they could exceed the Pharisees, all the while calling their inner faults out in public! But let us forget this for a moment. Let us rather focus on the confusion that these apparently self-contradictory assertions must have caused. Jesus said He did not come to destroy the law, but He also urged His disciples to break the law. He said that not one iota of the law would be changed, but He constantly flipped the law on its head. Was Jesus being deliberately ambiguous, trying to undermine the foundations of the law while preemptively defending Himself from the accusations of doing so by issuing some fig-leaf disclaimers here and there? Was Jesus being a sophist, . . . holding two conflicting statements at the same time? (pp. 263-264)
He continues expounding upon Jesus’ falsely perceived “innovations” or “novelties”:
For example, when justifying His disciples’ gleaning on sabbath, Jesus brought up a historical precedent, connecting His actions to the line of King David [cites Mk 2:25-27] . . .
In other words, Jesus did not make His maxim up out of thin air. The utterance “the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” had been grounded on King David eating the holy loaves of the temple. [footnote: 1 Sam 21:3-6] These loaves had a connection with the sabbath, for they should be changed every Saturday and could only be eaten by a priest within the sanctuary. [footnote:  Lev 24:5-9] But David and his companions ate them anyway. Jesus had retrieved a forgotten and ancient tradition to substantiate His behavior. The reason why this tradition had been forgotten was because it had been practiced only by King David, who had divine permission to act this way. (pp. 264-265)
Dr. Gabriel then brings to mind Jesus’ argument with the Pharisees about divorce (Mt 19:4-8), and observes:
Once again, Jesus appeals to an ancient and forgotten tradition, a tradition older than Moses’s concessions, a tradition hearkening back to Adam and Eve. Nothing could be more primordial than that. (p. 265)
In other words, the Pharisees thought that Jesus was an unorthodox radical, with regard to received Judaism (just as reactionaries today view Pope Francis in relation to traditional Catholicism). But He was not. His perspective was much deeper and profound than theirs and reached to the very heart and spirit (or essence) of the Law, whereas they were legalistically stuck in “the letter of the law.” Jesus graphically noted this in saying,
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23)
Dr. Gabriel explains this:
Jesus establishes a series of antitheses, wherein He contrasts external behaviors with internal attitudes. So, not only must one not kill, but one must also not be angry with one’s brother. Not only must one not commit adultery, but one must also not look lustfully at a woman. To do otherwise makes one a murderer or an adulterer in one’s own heart.
It is interesting that, in His antitheses, Jesus does not disagree with what “is written,” but with “you have heard.” So, we can see that Jesus did not abrogate the commandments, but reinterpreted them, so that the inward obedience to the law would take precedence over the outward and material obedience. The law remains authoritative. . . . Jesus combats legalistic behavior  because, as we have seen with the errors of the Pharisees, this formalism breaks the law under the pretext of upholding it. (pp. 267-268)
Despite Jesus’s clarifications, they saw Him as an innovator, just like they had done with John the Baptist before Him. During the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, we can hear the Pharisees asking each other in bewilderment: “What thing is this? What is this new doctrine?” [footnote: Mk 1:27] (p. 272; my italics added)
Then Dr. Gabriel relates all this to the current controversy over the pope’s authority: “Jesus . . . certainly can bequeath some of this authority to someone else, that this person may act as His representative” (p. 281) He then delves into matters of the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium, and observes:
It is significant that no official Church document has ever said that the ordinary magisterium can contain error. Donum Veritatis [1990; overseen by Cdl. Ratzinger] admits that, in matters of the prudential order, it can happen that some magisterial documents might not “be free from all deficiencies.” [sec. 24] But deficiencies do not necessarily equate with error. (p. 298)
Dr. Gabriel makes a great point about the absurd, ultra-biased reactionary claim that Pope Francis is almost invariably wrong:
[I]s it probable that the Church was so immaculately protected from the blemish of heresy for nearly 2,000 years, only to be utterly transformed into a den of heresy in current days? Is it not more likely that we are once again experiencing what has been a predictable routine in Church history since the beginning: that some Catholics have preferred to rely in simplistic personal interpretations of tradition instead of relying in the less obvious, but more authoritative magisterial interpretation? (p. 313)
I have marveled, along these lines, at one of the statements of pope-basher Ed Feser, who referred to “this lunatic period in history that we’re living through” and claimed that “Usually, errant popes exhibit serious failings of only one or two sorts. But Pope Francis seems intent on achieving a kind of synthesis of all possible papal errors” (“Pope Victor redux?” [7-18-21]).
Dr. Gabriel notes in his Conclusion that: “Not only can tradition be confused with novelty, but heresy can also be confused with tradition, . . . Historical precedent for this error is aplenty, and I have gathered examples . . .” (p. 351)
Pedro Gabriel emerges from this extraordinary book as a gifted expositor on legitimate development of doctrine, the Mind of the Church, and “radical orthodoxy.” Like St. John Henry Cardinal Newman in his famous and influential works, Apologia pro vita sua and Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, he brings forth many helpful historical and biblical analogies to make a larger point (a comparison with today’s radical traditionalists).
I didn’t delve into those for lack of space in a review article, but they arguably constitute the heart of his book. And like G. K. Chesterton in his masterpieces, Orthodoxy, Saint Francis of Assisi, and Saint Thomas Aquinas, Dr. Gabriel has the ability to capture the spirit or essence of orthodoxy in an engaging fashion.
The great tragedy of today is the fact that so many millions of dissidents on the “right” and relentless critics of Pope Francis (most seemingly in the US) are fundamentally wrong-headed and in error, due to the propaganda and manufactured false narrative that has swirled around him (anything goes). But the good news is that readers who are fair-minded, open-minded, still in possession of critical faculties (in the best sense of that term), and who dare to buck the pessimistic, faith-challenged, cynical narrative and fashionable bandwagon, can overcome this error and blind spot.
Dr. Gabriel’s desperately needed book is one sure way — perhaps the best way — to do that. I recommend it as highly as I have ever recommended any book. It’s as profound as it is timely; an instant classic. Heresy Disguised as Tradition is a tour de force and is poised to become the book on radical traditionalism in our time.
Reflections on Radical Catholic Reactionaries (Dec. 2002 / rev. Aug. 2013; Nov. 2023; my book which is now available for free online)
Mass Movements: Radical Catholic Reactionaries, the New Mass, and Ecumenism (Dec. 2012; my second book on this topic)


Practical Matters: Perhaps some of my 4,500+ free online articles (the most comprehensive “one-stop” Catholic apologetics site) or fifty-five books have helped you (by God’s grace) to decide to become Catholic or to return to the Church, or better understand some doctrines and why we believe them.
Or you may believe my work is worthy to support for the purpose of apologetics and evangelism in general. If so, please seriously consider a much-needed financial contribution. I’m always in need of more funds: especially monthly support. “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim 5:18, NKJV). 1 December 2021 was my 20th anniversary as a full-time Catholic apologist, and February 2022 marked the 25th anniversary of my blog.
PayPal donations are the easiest: just send to my email address: Here’s also a second page to get to PayPal. You’ll see the term “Catholic Used Book Service”, which is my old side-business. To learn about the different methods of contributing (including Zelle), see my page: About Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong / Donation InformationThanks a million from the bottom of my heart!

Photo Credit: photograph of the book cover, The Temptation of St Anthony, Hieronymus Bosch (manner of) c. 1550 – c. 1600, from its Amazon page.


Summary: Pedro Gabriel emerges from this book as a gifted and much-needed expositor on legitimate development of doctrine, the Mind of the Church, and “radical orthodoxy.”

November 16, 2023

Chapter 3 (pp. 31-35) of my book, Reflections on Radical Catholic Reactionaries (December 2002; revised second edition: 17 August 2013; slightly revised again in December 2023 for the purpose of the free online version). Anyone who reads this book should first read the following three introductory articles, in order to fully understand the definitions and sociological categories I am employing:

Introduction (on the book page)

Definitions: Radical Catholic Reactionaries, Mainstream “Traditionalists,” and Supposed “Neo-Catholics” [revised 8-6-13]

Radical Catholic Reactionaries: What They Are Not [9-28-21]

If you’re still confused and unclear as to my meanings and intent after that, read one or more of these articles:

Rationales for My Self-Coined Term, “Radical Catholic Reactionaries” [8-6-13]

My Coined Term, “Radical Catholic Reactionary”: Clarifications [10-5-17]

Clarifying My Coined Term, “Radical Catholic Reactionary” [4-3-20]

This book is modeled after the method and structure of the French mathematician and Catholic apologist Blaise Pascal’s classic, Pensées (“thoughts”). Catholic apologist and philosopher Peter Kreeft described this masterpiece as “raw pearls” and “more like ‘sayings’ than a book . . . ‘Sayings’ reflect and approximate the higher, the mode of Christ and Socrates and Buddha. That’s why Socrates is the greatest philosopher, according to St. Thomas (S.T. III, 42, 4).”

I am not intending to compare myself or my own “thoughts” or their cogency or import in any way, shape, or form, to those of Pascal, let alone to Socrates or our Lord Jesus! I am merely utilizing the unconventional structure of the Pensées, which  harmonizes well, I believe, with the approach that I have taken with regard to the present subject. I have sought to analyze (minus proper names, a la Trent) the premises, presuppositions, logical and ecclesiological “bottom lines” and (in a word), the spirit of a false and divisive radical Catholic reactionary strain of thought held by a distinctive sociological sub-group of Catholics.


  1. Many radical Catholic reactionaries believe that the “bitter fruits” of Vatican II have all but “destroyed” the Church. This is “quasi-defectibility.” The reactionary rarely – in mixed company — wants to assert this outright (according to their incessant doublethink), but how close they habitually come! It becomes an Orwellian situation wherein the Church can’t defect, yet it can come so close that the observer is tempted to opine that it is a distinction without a difference. Meanwhile, “traditionalist” some reactionary pessimists continue their exodus from the “middle position” (relatively speaking) to the more logically consistent but less orthodox formally schismatic positions of sedevacantism and other similar groups. Faithful Catholics believe that God will not let the Church in any way, shape, or form be “destroyed.”
  1. G. K. Chesterton observed: “At least five times, . . . with the Arian and the Albigensian, with the Humanist sceptic, after Voltaire and after Darwin, the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases it was the dog that died.”(The Everlasting Man, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Image, 1925, 254)
  1. History offers ample illustration that the heretics always eventually disappear, or at least greatly diminish in influence. The Church will survive. In fact, the beginning signs of coming revival are plain already, if one would simply maintain a little hope and optimistic faith that God is in control.
  1. The present crisis is the most serious the Church has ever faced, per Pope St. Pius X’s summation of the evils of modernism. At the same time (in contrast to reactionaries), orthodox Catholics remain total optimists as to eventual outcome — through faith, reading the signs of the times and of positive developments, and the knowledge of previous crises in Church history. We vehemently deny that the Church has defected or has been taken over by the forces of evil, and all the other pessimistic, scandalous, and pathetic scenarios that reactionaries suggest concerning causes of the crisis and institutional demise, “auto-demolition,” etc.
  1. Reactionaries think that the Church will eventually wake up and abandon the great “liberal experiment” of Vatican II. But this is the atrocious and exceedingly un-Catholic belief that a validly convoked ecumenical council, ratified by a pope, could be so heretical as to necessitate “abandonment,” as if we were talking about the Robber Council of 449. This is defectibility and nonsense — a pure hybrid of a certain strain of a-historical Protestantism and “Catholic” liberalism.
  1. The Church, we are told, has institutionally defected (or almost so). Never before (so reactionaries claim) has rampant (institutionalized, proclaimed) error run roughshod over orthodoxy for so many years after a council. Obviously, then, according to reactionaries, the Church is in dire straits. As in the view of Martin Luther, the Church has descended into darkness, and brave prophets have now been raised to bring it back to life. Luther seemed to think of himself as some sort of prophet-figure, too. As reactionaries seem to follow his example in many other ways, why not this one, also?
  1. Reactionaries contend with a straight face that the Church has collapsed, apparently mainly because of the New Mass, ecumenism, and religious liberty. If they want to see a real collapse, they should go look at the various liberalized Protestant denominations, such as the Episcopalians or the United Church of Christ. Even the Orthodox (who pride themselves on their strict traditionalism and immunity from modernism) accept contraception and divorce. One can’t fail to note the striking contrast. All these groups have institutionalized theological errors and immorality, and now – in some instances — call evil good, and heresy, orthodoxy. I don’t think reactionaries have the slightest inkling of what real “near-spiritual death” looks like.
  1. Obviously, modernism has filtered down to reactionaries also, since they are so pessimistic about the Church, just like the most liberal, skeptical German higher critics of the 19th century. They doubt the council; they doubt the pope. The Church is practically in shambles; almost in the grips of Antichrist himself . . . What better success could the modernists achieve than to get a committed, devout Catholic to doubt those things, even while he bashes the modernists who have assisted in the promulgation of such loss of belief (though not through the council itself)?! The entire reactionary argument about the virtual downfall of the Church is based on a subjective house of cards. Once logic and consistency are introduced to it, it collapses. It has more holes in it than a pin cushion. The opposing view is based on objective facts of Church history, and the analogy of earlier councils and crises (following Newman’s methodology in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine). Pre-conciliar authorities and popes express views diametrically opposed to those espoused by reactionaries.
  1. “Auto-demolition” is a favorite reactionary expression for the alleged institutional demise of the Church. Yet is this term applied to any other troubled period of Church history? It is not. Since the Church always revived itself from very deep pits of decadence and heretical outbreaks in the past, according to the principle of indefectibility and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it obviously would make no sense to do so. But as many reactionaries apparently aren’t sure of the outcome of this crisis, seemingly lacking faith in God’s designs in the worst of circumstances (we call that providence and sovereignty in theology), they utilize a phrase that would be patently ludicrous in other historical circumstances. Malcolm Muggeridge wrote about “The Great Liberal Death Wish.” I guess many reactionaries believe that Christ’s own Church — His Body — is rapidly committing suicide as well. How sad . . .
  1. If the council and popes are positively promulgating “grave” heretical error, then surely the Satanic conspiracy to overthrow the Church is complete, and the “gates of hell” have prevailed against the Church, contrary to our Lord’s promises (Matthew 16:18). This would, of course, raise further thorny difficulties for orthodox Christology.
  1. We need not start believing that the Church has self-destructed now because of the modernist crisis, since it isn’t much worse than the Arian crisis, or the “Reformation” crisis, or the Great Schism, or the rupture of 1054, or recurring periods of moral decadence.
  1. G. K. Chesterton:

I suspect that we should find several occasions when Christendom was thus to all appearance hollowed out from within by doubt and indifference, so that only the old Christian shell stood as the pagan shell had stood so long. But the difference is that in every such case, the sons were fanatical for the faith where the fathers had been slack about it. This is obvious in the case of the transition from the Renaissance to the Counter-Reformation. It is obvious in the case of a transition from the eighteenth century to the many Catholic revivals of our own time . . . Just as some might have thought the     Church simply a part of the Roman Empire, so others later might have thought the Church only a part of the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages ended as the Empire had ended; and the Church should have departed with them, if she had been also one of the shades of night. (The Everlasting Man, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Image, 1925, 250-252)

  1. The liberal frowns upon the institutional Church. The Protestant denies that the One True Church “subsists” in the Catholic Church, or re-defines it as invisible. The quasi-schismatic reactionary believes that the Catholic Church could somehow collapse institutionally (just as many historically sophisticated Protestants think was the case with the late medieval Catholic Church).
  1. Do reactionaries think that God will condemn anyone for having too much faith in His Church and His protection of it from error and defection into heresy?


Related Reading

“Could the Catholic Church Go Off the Rails?” (Indefectibility) [1997]

Indefectibility: Does God Protect His Church from Doctrinal Error? [11-1-05; abridged and reformulated a bit on 2-14-17]

“The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail” Against the Church [11-11-08]

Indefectibility of the One True Church (vs. Calvin #9) [5-16-09]

Indefectibility & Apostolic Succession (vs. Calvin #10) [5-18-09]

Sunny Optimism Regarding God’s Guidance of His Church Now and Always (Including Liturgical Discussion) [7-22-11]

Dialogue with a Lutheran on Ecclesiology & Old Testament Indefectibility Analogies [11-22-11]

St. Francis de Sales: Bible vs. Total Depravity (+ Biblical Evidence for the Indefectibility of the Church, from the Psalms)  [11-24-11]

The Bible on the Indefectibility of the Church [2013]

Salesian Apologetics #1: Indefectibility of the Church [2-4-20]

Pope Francis Accusers Reject Magisterial Teaching on Popes (The pope’s teaching is indefectible and cannot be judged or “overruled” by any man: or even an ecumenical council) [7-23-20]

Dialogue #7 w 1P5 Columnist Timothy Flanders (Highlighting Papal Indefectibility, Pastor Aeternus from Vatican I in 1870, & the “Charitable Anathema”) [12-1-20]

Pastor Aeternus (1870): Can a Pope Ever Make Heresy Binding? (Dr. Robert Fastiggi and Ron Conte; edited by Dave Armstrong, in Response to Timothy Flanders) [12-1-20]

Papal Indefectibility: Dr. Fastiggi vs. Fr. Z [3-11-21]



Photo credit: kalhh (10-28-17) [Pixabay / Pixabay License]


Practical Matters: Perhaps some of my 4,500+ free online articles (the most comprehensive “one-stop” Catholic apologetics site) or fifty-three books have helped you (by God’s grace) to decide to become Catholic or to return to the Church, or better understand some doctrines and why we believe them.
Or you may believe my work is worthy to support for the purpose of apologetics and evangelism in general. If so, please seriously consider a much-needed financial contribution. I’m always in need of more funds: especially monthly support. “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim 5:18, NKJV). 1 December 2021 was my 20th anniversary as a full-time Catholic apologist, and February 2022 marked the 25th anniversary of my blog.
PayPal donations are the easiest: just send to my email address: You’ll see the term “Catholic Used Book Service”, which is my old side-business. To learn about the different methods of contributing, see my page: About Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong / Donation InformationThanks a million from the bottom of my heart!
Summary: Chapter 3 (pp. 31-35) of my book, Reflections on Radical Catholic Reactionaries (December 2002; revised in December 2023 for the free online version).

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