Thursday, August 18, 2011

Signs of Counterfeit Catholicism

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves. (Matthew 23:15)

Since we have heard that some of our number (who went out) without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind… (Acts 15:24)

Preliminary Note: This article does not have any specific blogger in mind when writing this.  Nor am I judging the state of any person's soul.  I am merely stating that certain behavior is wrong, whether the person who holds to such beliefs does so sincerely or not.


There are a growing number of Catholics who were perhaps once less informed and less diligent in their faith and have been granted the grace to seek to grow in their faith and to be more steadfast.  They recognize that the Catholic Church is the Church established by Christ and seek to grow more faithful.  Yet we do see disputes on the internet.  Certain bloggers say that true Catholics must heed [X] while others say [X] is a modernist heresy.  This leaves the Catholic seeking to be faithful in a quandary.  What are they to make of these disputes?

The Mark of the Counterfeit Catholic

I firmly believe we have a sure sign which shows us whose presentation of the Catholic faith is counterfeit:  If the blogger or writer sets himself or herself as a judge of the Magisterium, they are not authentic, but counterfeit.

Christ Gives the Church His Authority

It is undeniable for anyone who would be authentically Catholic that Jesus Christ linked Himself with His Church.  He placed His Church into the hands of the Apostles with Peter as the visible head of the Church, saying that what they bound on Earth would be bound in Heaven (Matt 16:19, Matt: 18:18).  He made clear that those who rejected them rejected Him (Luke 10:16), and that if any would not listen to the Church, they were to be treated as a tax collector (Matt 18:17).

Since He said these things and also told us that if we love Him we will keep His commandments (John 14:15), and that if we keep His commandments we will abide in His love (John 15:10) it follows that in order to follow Christ, we must follow the Church.

Finally, Jesus provides us with a graphic example of being tied to His Church in Acts 9:

1 Now Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest

2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that, if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains.

3 On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him.

4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

5 He said, “Who are you, sir?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.

Note He did not say, "Why are you persecuting my people?"  He said "why are you persecuting me?"  An attack on Christ's Church is an attack on Christ.

In short, Jesus established a Church in which those to whom He entrusted it were to have the authority to govern it and to teach, and made clear that a rejection of those to whom He gave this authority was a rejection of Him.

The Arrogance of Those Who Judge the Magisterium

Yet in spite of this testimony, we have certain people and groups who claim to be authentically Catholic and yet dare to say that recent popes have taught error and that the Bishops in communion with the Pope are not to be listened to.  Such people have the arrogance to make themselves an authority and an arbiter between God and His Church, declaring themselves to be in the right and the Church to be in the wrong.  They say this even though Jesus Christ promised that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church (Matt 16:18) and that He would always be with His Church (Matt 28:20).

This arrogance is not simply found in the sedevacantists (those who deny we have a valid Pope) and the SSPX.  We see many out there who argue one can be a faithful Catholic and reject Vatican II.  We see people out there who accuse modern Church teachings to be "modernist" simply because it does not square with their personal readings of the individual who judges the Church.

Ironically, such persons become little different than the liberal dissenters who deny the authority of the Church to teach on matters on sexual morality.  They pick and choose what is "authentically" Catholic and judge the Magisterium based on this arbitrary decision.

I would now like to discuss certain statements which can be seen as giant warnings of counterfeit Catholicism.

1) "I'm Not Disobedient.  I'm Being Faithful to Past Popes and Councils."

Consider this statement a giant red flag.  Such a person claims that the current Magisterial teaching on a subject is contrary to past teachings of the Church.  However, such a person is making an assumption which needs to be proven: That he or she correctly interprets the Patristics, the Popes and the Councils while the current Magisterium does not.

This is essentially a Catholicized form of the Private Interpretation which certain Protestants rely on and is essentially a "No True Scotsman" fallacy:

  1. No TRUE Catholic Holds [X].
  2. The Magisterium holds [X].
  3. Therefore the Magisterium is not truly Catholic.

No matter what attempt a person may make to show why this individual is wrong, the individual will reject it as not being "truly Catholic."

What such things ignore is twofold: That he properly understands the past teachings in context and that he properly understands the current teaching.  If the individual errs on even one of the two, any judgments he makes on whether a current magisterial teaching is valid must be flawed.

Even without such a consideration, Catholics seeking to be authentic can justly ask the person judging the Magisterium the following:

On What Basis Do YOU Claim the Authority to Authentically Interpret Church Teachings Against the Church?

The Popes can point to their succession from Peter and the Bishops can point to their succession from the Apostles.  The individual claiming to judge the Magisterium can do neither.

Blessed Pope John Paul II had pointed out the errors which leads to this sort of mindset:

4. The root of this schismatic act can be discerned in an incomplete and contradictory notion of Tradition. Incomplete, because it does not take sufficiently into account the living character of Tradition, which, as the Second Vatican Council clearly taught, "comes from the apostles and progresses in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on. This comes about in various ways. It comes through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts. It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth".(5)

But especially contradictory is a notion of Tradition which opposes the universal Magisterium of the Church possessed by the Bishop of Rome and the Body of Bishops. It is impossible to remain faithful to the Tradition while breaking the ecclesial bond with him to whom, in the person of the Apostle Peter, Christ himself entrusted the ministry of unity in his Church.(6)

(Ecclesia Dei #4)

It is an important point.  The Magisterial teaching of the Church did not freeze in 1962.  Nor did it freeze in 1870 or the end of the Council of Trent.  Tradition is LIVING.  Our understanding grows.  The Church has never said [X] before Vatican II and then [Not-X] after Vatican II.  The Church will never deny she is the True Church.  However, she will grow in understanding as to what this means in terms of the power of the state and decree that the state does not possess the authority to force men to do what these men believe to be evil.

2) "History Shows Past Popes Have Had to Be Corrected"

This is deceptive.  Certain Popes have of course had personal moral failings, but they have NEVER been corrected when it came to making a formal teaching on faith and morals.  This applies to personal writings.  Pope Benedict XVI wrote Jesus of Nazareth as a private person.  He wrote Caritas in Veritate as the Pope.

Essentially this is the "We had to destroy the village in order to liberate it" statement.  To defend a personal view of what the Catholic faith is, it ends up denying the authority of the Pope and the Bishops in order to do so.

We can then apply a reductio ad absurdum to their claim:

If the Vatican II and Post-Vatican II Magisterium fell into error, how do we know the Pre-Vatican II Church didn't?

If Christ failed to protect the Church after 1962, what assurance do we have He protected the Church before 1962?

3) "Church Teaching [X] is not ex cathedra and therefore is not binding"

This one is probably the most dishonest argument and one which actually supplies ammunition to anyone (Atheist, Protestant, Modernist) who wants to attack the authority of the Church.  Because it attempts to limit binding teaching to the infallible definitions and claims anything else is not binding, anyone who wants to attack a Church teaching can simply demand to see an ex cathedra (from the Chair) declaration.  In fact certain dissenters have made use of this in trying to deny the authority of the Church teaching on contraception ("Well, Humanae Vitae wasn't infallible so I don't have to obey it!").

This sort of view is a distortion of Church teaching.  The infallible definition is a strict definition used to make a specific statement about what must be believed.  However the infallible declaration is not the only way the Church teaches.  In fact the Church calls it an exercise of extraordinary (extraordinarius, from extra ordinem ‘outside the normal course of events) Magisterium.  The Church uses the infallible declaration in rare circumstances when she thinks it is necessary.

However, the Church has never taught that the Ex cathedra is the sole method of teaching.

Pope Pius XII warned in Humani Generis:

20. Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: "He who heareth you, heareth me";[3] and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians.

In other words, when the Church teaches in official documents, one cannot reject it on the grounds it isn't ex cathedra.

Moreover Vatican I in 1870 decreed:

2. Wherefore we teach and declare that, by divine ordinance, the Roman Church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other Church, and that this jurisdictional power of the Roman Pontiff is both episcopal and immediate. Both clergy and faithful, of whatever rite and dignity, both singly and collectively, are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world. (Pastor Aeternus Chapter 2)

This brings us to the Catechism of the Catholic Church which teaches:

2033 The Magisterium of the Pastors of the Church in moral matters is ordinarily exercised in catechesis and preaching, with the help of the works of theologians and spiritual authors. Thus from generation to generation, under the aegis and vigilance of the pastors, the "deposit" of Christian moral teaching has been handed on, a deposit composed of a characteristic body of rules, commandments, and virtues proceeding from faith in Christ and animated by charity. Alongside the Creed and the Our Father, the basis for this catechesis has traditionally been the Decalogue which sets out the principles of moral life valid for all men.

So we can see that the teaching authority (the Magisterium) of the Church is ordinarily carried out in the catechesis and preaching – NOT in ex cathedra statements.  Yes that is the highest level of teaching (See #2035).  But it does not negate the others.  Even in "merely" disciplinary matters the Church is to be heeded with docility:

2037 The law of God entrusted to the Church is taught to the faithful as the way of life and truth. the faithful therefore have the right to be instructed in the divine saving precepts that purify judgment and, with grace, heal wounded human reason.79 They have the duty of observing the constitutions and decrees conveyed by the legitimate authority of the Church. Even if they concern disciplinary matters, these determinations call for docility in charity.

I believe this adequately shows that the appeal to ex cathedra alone is a denial of the full authority of the teaching authority of the Church.

Basically the person who uses this argument to deny Church authority in fact makes use of the fallacy of bifurcation: Either [Ex Cathedra] or [Not Binding].  However, if there is an option other than these, then the either-or is a false choice.  Since the Church makes clear that it is NOT Either [Ex Cathedra] or [Not Binding] we can see such an argument shows the one who employs it is making a false statement (whether knowingly or not) about the authority of Church teaching.

Of course the fact that such a person makes a false statement shows he or she is not qualified to judge the Magisterium.

We can actually take the "Where does the Bible teach Sola Scriptura?" argument and apply it to these would-be judges and ask:

What ex cathedra statement teaches that only an ex cathedra statement is binding?


Jesus said, "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)"  Since we have already seen above that Jesus links His authority to that of the Church, it follows that without His Church we can do nothing.  This is not because of any special property the Church has in her own right – it is solely because the Church receives her authority from Christ who sends the Church forth (see Matt 28:18).

Because of this, when one rejects the Church in a matter where she claims authority, such a person cannot claim to authentically represent the Church and the Catholic seeking guidance should recognize that such a would-be teacher is in fact peddling a counterfeit Catholicism.

Parenthesis: Does the Arnobius of Sicca Blog Practices What it Preaches?

I certainly do my best to do so.  I claim no authority whatsoever to judge the Magisterium.  Individual bishops may concern me at times and I may at times struggle to understand the teachings of why the Church acts as she does.  However, I want to make it clear that I never want this blog to be viewed in opposition to the Magisterium.  If (GOD FORBID) I should ever make a statement which seems to be contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium (I assure you this would never be deliberate), then please go with the Magisterium and do not invoke me as a source against it.

I believe I personally have no authority to bind and loose, and this blog exists to point to the authority of the Church as well as to defend the teaching authority from those who reject it.

If I seem to claim any other source of authority for myself in any of my writings (past, present or future) I apologize for writing unclearly.

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