Followers of the Imagisterium

Followers of the Imagisterium January 28, 2019

Mike Lewis brings the truth about the Greatest Catholics of All Time, a sect in the Church that constitutes the most bitter opponents of the Church’s whole weave teaching and dedicated to destroying the Magisterium and replacing it with it Americanist Christianism in service to the rich and powerful:

Rather than listening to the Magisterium and simply assenting to the teachings in the way that the Church instructs us, many Catholics instead adhere to a different authoritative body of teaching, which I’ll call the “imagisterium.”

We’ve discussed this phenomenon many times, beginning with Pedro Gabriel’s landmark essay “Sola Traditio,” and later explored in “Fundamentalist Catholics and Ecclesial Catholics” and “Marcel Lefebvre: Father of Traditionalist Dissent.” More recently, I attempted to lay out in clear terms how rejection of what Pope Francis teaches in Amoris Laetitia is, objectively speaking, dissent from Magisterial teaching.

Catholics who adhere to the imagisterium claim they are weighing novel teachings from the Vatican against Church Tradition or the “perennial magisterium,” or that they are attempting to reconcile the official teaching with “doctrinal orthodoxy.” Among the adherents to the imagisterial approach are journalists, canon lawyers, prominent theologians, priests, bishops, and at least one cardinal. The problem with this is that it has absolutely no basis in what the Church teaches about the Magisterium, and threatens to divide the Church.

We’ve repeated many times what the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium states about how and when the faithful are to adhere to official teachings:

Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

With statements like “judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to,” and “according to his manifest mind and will,” there’s really no question about where Catholics should be looking for authoritative and orthodox teachings.

It’s a bizarre juxtaposition. These Catholics, while affirming that they are 100% orthodox, reject official Catholic teachings as heterodox or even heretical. To them, what is promulgated as authentically Magisterial (on an official level, to the entire Church, by the pope in his role as supreme pontiff) might not actually be Magisterial. According to them, we are supposed to know what is truly Magisterial by comparing it to prior Magisterial teaching, to see if it lines up. If it doesn’t, we are to reject it, disregard it, or claim to be confused by it.

The problems with this approach should be self-evident. For example, how should a Catholic reply if asked for the Church’s official teaching on the death penalty? From a factual standpoint, the teaching is reflected in Pope Francis’s revision to the Catechism’s paragraph 2267, which states, “the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.” Canon Law and Tradition clearly state that his authority allows him to change the Catechism. There is no system of canonical checks and balances that hinders the Pope’s ability to develop or revise Magisterial documents.

Yet the followers of the imaginisterium have a different understanding. RR Reno, in his unfortunate recent screed entitled “A Failing Papacy,” wrote of this change:

Francis seems uninterested in developing a coherent theological justification for his actions. He governs with gestures, slogans, and sentiments.

Pope Francis has also revised the Catechism in a way that suggests a fundamental change in the Church’s teaching. This was done in a peremptory fashion without discussion or explanation. It is as if Francis had meditated on St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises, which guides one toward galvanizing discernments that come with commanding immediacy, rather than consulting moral theologians. This can’t help but create the impression that everything is up for grabs. Who knows what will come next?

Nevermind that the change to the Catechism was accompanied by a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, explaining and justifying the revision. Nevermind that this document explicitly confirms that “the new formulation of number 2267 of the Catechism expresses an authentic development of doctrine that is not in contradiction with the prior teachings of the Magisterium.” Nevermind that the revision came over 10 months after Pope Francis publicly called for a revision to the Catechism. Nevermind that the new revision doesn’t touch the question of intrinsic evil, which troubled papal critics 10 months earlier, suggesting that there was indeed discussion about a way to revise the teaching that is coherent with Tradition.

Some theologians openly advocate dissent on the grounds that, “assent must be withheld when the teaching in question openly conflicts with the public dogma or definitive doctrine of the Church.” During this papacy, this concept has been applied to both Amoris Laetitia and the death penalty. On the surface, it seems reasonable. After all, it can certainly be jarring for one’s airtight understanding of a particular doctrine to be blown apart by a new magisterial development. A problem with this assertion is that it doesn’t have a basis in Catholic doctrine. Another problem is that it holds an individual’s subjective judgement over authoritative Church teaching. What many Catholics hold to be an objective, authoritative standard is simply a product of their imaginations.

Several years ago, I spent a great deal of time trying to understand exactly what the Church taught regarding the reliability of papal teachings. I had, like so many traditional or conservative Catholics, grown up with the idea that the teachings of the post-Vatican II Church were suspect, or that not everything officially promulgated by the pope as Magisterium was actually magisterial. I bought into George Weigel’s theory that we are to go through encyclicals and mark them up with gold and red pens, separating the wheat from the chaff in everything the Church officially promulgated from 1958 onward.

What really opened my eyes was the 1998 CDF document entitled, “The Primacy of the Successor of Peter in the Mystery of the Church,” which not only outlines the roles and responsibilities of the pope, but also explains how he has been promised to the Church to ensure our unity and fidelity. The protection of the Magisterium is not simply a responsibility that the pope can opt to ignore, but the grace to fulfill that mission is intrinsic to the papacy. The document says,

The Roman Pontiff, as the Successor of Peter, is “the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity both of the Bishops and of the multitude of the faithful” and therefore he has a specific ministerial grace for serving that unity of faith and communion which is necessary for the Church to fulfil her saving mission.

This document, promulgated by the CDF under then-Cardinal Ratzinger, is clear in its intention “to recall the essential points of Catholic doctrine on the primacy.” Nowhere in the document is there any hint that a pope can opt to deviate from his responsibility to remain faithful to the Gospel in his teachings. There is no suggestion that the laity, esteemed theologians, or even cardinals can stand up against the pope and proclaim that the pope is promulgating erroneous teachings. That idea is a novelty with no roots in the official Church teaching on papal primacy. It’s a teaching of the imagisterium.

Indeed, the document very strongly asserts the opposite:

The Roman Pontiff – like all the faithful – is subject to the Word of God, to the Catholic faith, and is the guarantor of the Church’s obedience; in this sense he is servus servorum Dei. He does not make arbitrary decisions, but is spokesman for the will of the Lord, who speaks to man in the Scriptures lived and interpreted by Tradition; in other words, the episkope of the primacy has limits set by divine law and by the Church’s divine, inviolable constitution found in Revelation. The Successor of Peter is the rock which guarantees a rigorous fidelity to the Word of God against arbitrariness and conformism: hence the martyrological nature of his primacy.

During Francis’s pontificate, the body of writing that has given credence to the imagisterium has grown tremendously. Theologian Thomas Pink has even created a theory that separates the Vatican’s (potentially heretical, in his eyes) “official theology” from “true” Magisterial teaching. He explains:

The Church may issue magisterial teaching, which invokes the Church’s authority and an obligation on the faithful to believe on the basis of that authority. But the Church at an official level may also make statements that though official are not themselves magisterial teaching. They are statements that are official – made by officeholders in their public role – but they simply explain what the magisterial teaching means, or what the Church’s policies and practices are, without those statements of themselves imposing any obligation on our part to believe them.

Regarding Amoris Laetitia, he writes:

Amoris Laetitia seems to have been written to avoid clear and unambiguous contradiction of earlier magisterial teaching. But it has come with a lot of official theology, often from the highest level in the Church, that claims to explain the content of Amoris Laetitia — and that explains it in a way that clearly does contradict previous magisterial teaching. That’s very problematic. It looks as though we do have to reject that explanatory official theology as erroneous.

There are a number of problematic ideas here, the first of which is that he doesn’t explain how we are supposed to determine which parts of official documents are magisterial and which are “official theology.” On both Amoris and the death penalty, the legitimate magisterial authority — the pope — has asserted clearly that they represent legitimate developments in continuity with tradition, while various critics and theologians (including Pink) insist otherwise. The Pope explicitly promulgated the Buenos Aires bishops’ guidelines on the implementation of Amoris as “Authentic Magisterium.” Are we to view them simply as “official theology” if we find them troubling? Secondly, as the passage above from Lumen Gentium tells us, the meaning of a magisterial act or document should be understood according to the pope’s “manifest mind and will.” In other words, we shouldn’t be peeling back layers of official Church documents so we can find nuggets of teaching that meet with our approval.

Conservative Christianists enemies of the Magisterium in love with Trump and at war with Francis are fighting the Church on nearly every aspect of her social teaching. Unjust war, torture, living wage, capital punishment, tearing families limb from limb and caging children, contempt for refugees, gun violence, health care, climate change, you name it. They declare it all “prudential judgment” and define that to mean “Screw the Church’s guidance. We do what we want!”. Then they call abortion a “non-negotiable” and lie that they “focusing their energies there” when, in fact, they are focusing their energies on fighting the Church’s guidance in all those other areas.

The obvious and sensible thing to do is just listen to the Church on all those matters and oppose abortion. But they lie that doing so “dilutes the prolife message.” Rubbish. What they mean to do is pretend that obeying the Church’s whole teaching somehow means we can’t speak of abortion too. The trick they have done for thirty years is lie that the unborn are the opposite of, not related to, all the people the GOP means to hurt, rob, neglect, and kill.

The prolife movement would be immeasurably stronger if the supposedly “faithful conservative Catholics” upheld and did not make war on the rest of the Church’s teaching.  They would be able to say to the Left, “We are fighting for the least of these at the border, on death row, in the ghettoes, in poor families in need of health care, on reservations, and everywhere else the gospel sends us.  We are fighting as hard as you are for the same people you are.  We see the terrible sufferings inflicted on the brown and the poor in this country and we are doing all in our power, side by side with you, to help them.  So why, oh, why can you not see that the unborn are, like the rest of these, part of the least of these?”

But instead, we listen to enemies of the Magisterium who tell us that “Amnesty Equals Abortion”, who defend Nazis at Charlottesville, and who lie that sexual assault is “locker room talk”, and who tear families apart and cage little children in a stupid racist war on the weak.  We make abundantly clear that the unborn matter only as human shields for every human being the Christianist Cult of Trump means to harm, rob, defame, and kill.  What sane person would trust such transparent liars?

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