Showing posts with label Self Deception. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Self Deception. Show all posts

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Deus Vult Illud? On Selective Obedience

More: Roper, the answer’s ‘no’. (Firmly.) And will be ‘no’ so long as you’re a heretic.

Roper: (firing) That’s a word I don’t like, Sir Thomas!

More: It’s not a likeable word. (Coming to life.) It’s not a likeable thing!

Bolt, Robert (2013-12-04). A Man For All Seasons (Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 568-570). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.


I had a strange encounter on Twitter with racists who argued that their racism was in keeping with being Christian, and even Catholic. Their arguments involved a superficial understanding of Scripture and history. It misuses the meaning of the Hebrew חָרַם (hārām) to treat God’s sentence carried out on certain cities because of their abominable practices as if they justified racial separation and keeping undesirable races (like Middle Eastern refugees) out of their lands. These people seemed ignorant of the actions of the Church to reach out to people of all races and nations to bring them into the faith. Of course this behavior is disgusting. I really get angered when people misrepresent the Catholic faith to justify their odious views, ignoring what the Church says when it goes against them, and citing things out of context to make it seem like they are being faithful when actually they are seeking to sanctify their own preferences.

But then I thought about something. While racism is the obvious example of misusing Church teaching to justify evil, it is by no means the only example. Whenever we try to portray our own sinful activity as justified—either by misrepresenting Scripture or Church teaching, or by trying to set God against Church teaching—we are still doing the same thing. It’s just that we find our own behavior less odious than theirs. The problem is, they also think of their actions as if nothing was wrong with them. Here’s where we behave just as wrongly as the racists, even though our own sins are not as obviously repugnant as that of the White Separatists. 

Defining the Issue

At this point, I should make clear this is the other side of what I normally talk about. In some past articles, I have warned against accusing people of sins they have no intention of committing, on the basis of assuming that a disagreement on how to be faithful to the Church meant being unfaithful to the Church. In this case, I am talking about those who disagree with a Church teaching and try to portray their disobedience as being faithful to a higher authority. For example, anti-Francis Catholics try to appeal to earlier writings to argue they are being faithful to the Church and the Pope is not. Other Catholics who don’t like Church teaching on issues like contraception, abortion, homosexuality, or divorce/remarriage try to appeal to selective verses in the Bible, arguing that they must dissent from the Church to be faithful to Him.

Obedience and Authority

For a Catholic to take those positions shows ignorance of what we believe the Church is and what her relationship to God is, or refusal to accept that belief. Because we believe Jesus is God, we cannot try to divide Jesus from God in the Old Testament. God is God eternally, and God does not change, which means God is Trinity eternally. So God does not change His mind on what is good and what is evil. We need to recognize that God designed His laws for a purpose. We need to understand the differences between the moral law, dietary law, and cultic law. We also need to understand the concept of Divine Accommodation: God choosing one group of people (the Israelites) gradually moving them away from the barbarism of their neighbors towards holiness in preparation of the salvation of the world through God the Son, Jesus Christ.

We also need to realize that what we know of Hell was taught by Jesus. Yes, God does desire all men to be saved. But He also created man with free will, and with that free will, man could choose to reject God and choose evil. Jesus constantly warned His disciples that it was not just agreeing with God, but doing His will, that was required of us. Jesus’ death and resurrection was what made our salvation possible. However, Catholics also believe Jesus established His Church under Peter and his successors. We believe Jesus gave that Church the authority to bind and loose. We believe that rejecting His Church is rejecting Him (Luke 10:16). We believe that Jesus is with His Church always (Matthew 28:20). 

This means we can’t set Jesus against His Church, or the earlier magisterium against the magisterium today. We believe that God protects His Church from teaching error. When she teaches X is wrong, it is because X is wrong. However, some confuse the teaching of the Church with the behavior of the individual members in the Church, or confuse teachings and disciplines of the Church with the governance of the Papal States. It does no good to point to a tenth century Pope behaving badly when the issue is what the Pope teaches as binding on the faithful. We don’t believe that whatever the Pope happens to do is sanctified simply because the Pope did it. However, when the Pope condemns something as being contrary to the faith, we do need to give assent.

Disobedience and Dissent

Once we grasp that (and if we don’t grasp that, we will make all sorts of errors), we need to realize that when we reject what God teaches, or what the Church teaches with God’s authority, we are rejecting God. That is sin. The Church can decide in different times what is needed to defend the faith. She can speak strictly or gently as needed. When she decides on one way for approaching sinners in a certain era, she is not blocked from taking the opposite tack later if it is needed. We can’t decide for ourselves what the Church should do. We can’t decide for ourselves how important or unimportant a sin is. 

So, if we choose to selectively cite Scripture or Church teaching to justify our disobedience, we are still rejecting the Church, and as Our Lord said, that means we are rejecting Him. While some humans may be deceived by this dishonest application, God is not deceived. The worse behavior of some does not mean our own dissent is ok in God’s eyes. We will still have to answer for our own actions, regardless of how much worse others act.

This is true regardless of whether one is a racist, an abortionist, a radical traditionalist, or a “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholic.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Let's Talk About Dangerous Thinking Leading to Sin

can. 751† 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; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.

can. 752† 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.


 Code of Canon Law: New English Translation (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1998), 247.


A sign that our discernment is in real contact with the Holy Spirit is and will always be adherence to revealed truth as it is proposed by the Church’s Magisterium. The interior teacher does not inspire dissent, disobedience or even merely an unjustified resistance to the pastors and teachers established by him in the Church (cf. Acts 20:29). It belongs to the Church’s authority, as the Council said in the Constitution Lumen Gentium (n. 12), to “not quench the Spirit, but to test everything and retain what is good” (cf. 1 Thess 5:12, 19–21). This is the direction of ecclesial and pastoral wisdom which also comes from the Holy Spirit.



John Paul II, April 24, 1991. Audiences of Pope John Paul II (English) (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2014).

Since too many people seem to assume that defense of Pope Francis is a condemnation of Cardinal Burke et. al., I should make this preliminary note: It’s not my intention to judge the souls or motives of the four cardinals. My concern is with the attitude of “Combox warrior” Catholics on social media who accuse the Pope of heresy and ignorance. Comments accusing me of judging these cardinals will be deleted.

Two Scenarios of Schism

When I talk about schism coming in the Church, there are two possibilities on how it may come about. One I think is unlikely, the other I think probable.

One scenario—which is what most people think when they hear the term—is that certain Catholics get so fed up with the Pope, that they set up one of his critics as an antipope and form a separate Church. This was a scenario popular in religious fiction during the Pontificate of St. John Paul II when he faced open dissent from those who wanted to change Church teaching. This sometimes happens in Church history, but in this case, I think this scenario is unlikely.

The other scenario—the one I think is more probable today—is that critics ramp up their opposition to the Pope, alleging he is teaching error. A growing number of Catholics believe this and refuse assent to his teachings because they believe, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” and are led to think they know the Catholic faith better than the Holy Father. So they refuse to listen to him when what he says doesn’t square up with what they think the Church teaching is. In this situation, those refusing submission to the Pope  deceive themselves into thinking the shepherds of the Church are in error while they are a faithful remnant. They don’t think they’re schismatics because they’re not leaving the Church or creating an antipope.

Danger Lies in Assuming One’s Personal Interpretations are Doctrine

Let’s be clear, however. Simply wanting the Pope to answer the dubia is not in itself a sin. In doing so, we should be aware that there may be things going on behind the scenes that lead to him deciding to handle things differently than we want. The danger comes when one says, “I can’t see any reason for not doing this, so the Pope must be wrong.” Even if it should turn out there was no good reason, the worst one can accuse the Pope of is being a poor administrator, NOT that he is teaching error.

It becomes more dangerous when we become so invested in a certain interpretation of Church teaching, especially when a document was written in a different era. A changing world can lead to the Church taking a different approach in a different approach while accepting the long held doctrine of the Church. But if one has embraced a certain Church policy from one time to the point of confusing it with doctrine, there is a danger of thinking a change of policy is a rejection of doctrine.

For example, in his work Fundamentals of Catholicism, then-Cardinal Ratzinger spoke about the shift of tactics in dealing with the world between the times of Pius IX and St. Pius X compared to Gaudium et spes. In a passage that outraged some Catholics (and was used as ammunition by some sede vacantists), he wrote:

Let us be content to say here that the text serves as a counter syllabus and, as such, represents, on the part of the Church, an attempt at an official reconciliation with the new era inaugurated in 1789. Only from this perspective can we understand, on the one hand, its ghetto-mentality, of which we have spoken above; only from this perspective can we understand, on the other hand, the meaning of this remarkable meeting of Church and world. Basically, the word “world” means the spirit of the modern era, in contrast to which the Church’s group-consciousness saw itself as a separate subject that now, after a war that had been in turn both hot and cold, was intent on dialogue and cooperation. From this perspective, too, we can understand the different emphases with which the individual parts of the Church entered into the discussion of the text.


 Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology, trans. Mary Frances McCarthy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), 382.

People who were invested in the Syllabi of the earlier Popes took the term “counter syllabus” and accused him of heresy, saying he rejected doctrine and accepted the French Revolution as good. He said nothing of the sort. He didn’t deny the earlier teaching of the Church. He merely believed that the world had changed and the (non-doctrinal) approach of the Church needed to address new situations that had arisen since 1789. Never mind the fact that Vatican II begins with the premise that the Church established by Our Lord is the Catholic Church. People who preferred previous practices believe this is a change of doctrine, even though it is a change of practice.

Misunderstandings Leading to False Accusations

And that’s where the problem with the Church today exists. The Pope and bishops in communion with him (and never apart from him) determine how Church teaching is applied in every generation. Sometimes misunderstandings happen. The question is, will people investigate whether they have misunderstood, or will they assume any fault lies with the magisterium when there is a conflict, refusing to consider any other possibility?

For example, one common accusation from combox warriors is the Pope intends to implement the ideas of Cardinal Kasper in approving remarriage and reception of the Eucharist after divorce. Such accusations show they don’t really know what the Cardinal (whom I believe to be wrong) said, nor how his words differed from the Pope. What Cardinal Kasper thought was a good idea [*], was to invoke the opinion offered by some Church Fathers and accepted by the Orthodox churches (but not the Catholic Church):

But if a divorced and remarried person is truly sorry that he or she failed in the first marriage, if the commitments from the first marriage are clarified and a return is definitively out of the question, if he or she cannot undo the commitments that were assumed in the second civil marriage without new guilt, if he or she strives to the best of his or her abilities to live out the second civil marriage on the basis of faith and to raise their children in the faith, if he or she longs for the sacraments as a source of strength in his or her situation, do we then have to refuse or can we refuse him or her the sacrament of penance and communion, after a period of reorientation?


 Walter Kasper, The Gospel of the Family, trans. William Madges (Mahwah, NJ; New York: Paulist Press, 2014), 32.

You won’t find this view in Amoris Lætitia, because the Pope doesn’t teach this view. What he discusses is getting people back to Church with the aim of reconciling them with God. He asks bishops and priests to remember the intents and circumstances and not just stop at the fact of intrinsic evil [†]. My reading of Amoris Lætitia and the Argentine bishops’ instruction is the ultimate goal is to get the divorced and remarried to live as brother and sister. If they should fall into temptation and sin, this is what the Sacrament of Reconciliation is for.

Some people read the same words and misinterpret the Pope as saying the Church should find ways around Our Lord’s teachings. But there’s no justification for it. In his February 18, 2016, press conference, he said in response to a question:

Thompson: Does that mean they can receive Communion?


Pope Francis: This is the last thing. Integrating in the Church doesn’t mean receiving communion. I know married Catholics in a second union who go to church, who go to church once or twice a year and say I want communion, as if joining in Communion were an award. It’s a work towards integration, all doors are open, but we cannot say, ‘from here on they can have communion.’ This would be an injury also to marriage, to the couple, because it wouldn’t allow them to proceed on this path of integration. And those two were happy. They used a very beautiful expression: we don’t receive Eucharistic communion, but we receive communion when we visit hospitals and in this and this and this. Their integration is that.

Things like this show that an interpretation claiming the Pope intends to permit the Eucharist for the divorced and remarried without repentance is a misunderstanding, and an accusation that he intends to change an unchangeable teaching turns out to be a false accusation.

Conclusion: The Dangerous Ways of Thinking

The dangerous ways of thinking come from not being able to consider the possibility of going wrong personally. If I hold that the Pope can go wrong but I can’t, I’ve created a blind spot that prevents me from properly examining myself for error and repenting if error is found. Under such a view, we create a church of a billion popes where the only the Pope and everybody else who thinks differently from me can go wrong. Yes, one can wish a Pope handled things differently, and (as I pointed out above) that includes how he handled the dubia. But there’s a difference between wishing the Pope had handled things differently and saying “Not my Pope,” or “I can’t follow him any more,” as two Catholics I encountered on Facebook today said.

The first attitude is acceptable so long as one recognizes his authority to act as he sees fit. The latter is literally schismatic as defined by Canon Law. It is possible that the person didn’t realize how serious a claim was. It is possible they would never uttered those words if they had known. But it is a refusal to submit to the Pope. So one should think long and hard if they dislike the Pope. 

Afterword: My Personal View

Above, I’ve tried to show how the attacks against the Pope are flawed. Now I’d like to offer my personal views.  

I believe the attacks against the Pope are unjust. The assumption that anyone who defends him is “a modernist” and “a Hillary supporter” [§], shows the ideological slant of his critics. There is no cause for this, and such accusations show a lack of knowledge of what Pope Francis said, what his predecessors said, or (alarmingly on the increase) ignorance of both. Our Lord established Peter as the Rock on which He would build His Church. The attacks against Pope Francis are, whether his foes realize it or not, undermining the Rock, and will come back to haunt whoever succeeds Pope Francis.

For centuries, the saints spoke about obedience to the Church as part of our obligation towards holiness. Now, a growing number seem to think one can be holy in opposition to those who lead the Church. I am not making any accusations against any Catholic here (even if I wanted to, I certainly have no authority to do so). But if someone who reads my blog is tempted to take that approach, I plead with you as a fellow Christian to reconsider your actions and mindset.

As for me, I will continue to defend the Pope both because I place my faith in God to protect His Church from teaching error [∞], and I reject the accusations made against his intentions, orthodoxy and competence. This view might make me unpopular, but for me, prayer and study leads so I can take no other stand without being unfaithful. 


[*] The problem I have with Cardinal Kasper’s view is Our Lord’s and subsequent Church teaching tells us that when a marriage exists, one cannot remarry. Unless I misinterpret him, he seems to think a couple is “truly sorry,” they can go on living as if they were man and wife and receive the sacraments. But being truly sorry means doing what one can to turn away from the sin. So it seems like he holds contradictory premises.

[†] The reason I’m puzzled with the dubia is they are focused on the concept of intrinsically evil acts as if the Pope were ignoring them, but (as I see it) the Pope seems to accept that as a given and asks the clergy to look more at the other two parts of assessing sin. 

[§] I’ve received both accusations from combox warriors. The latter is a non sequitur which shows the political motivations of some of the Pope’s critics.

[∞] If the Pope actually said the divorced and remarried they can receive the Eucharist without repentance (which I deny) that would seem to be a teaching on faith and morals.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Which is Manmade? The Church or Your Movement?

Introduction: The Context of the Question

In 1850, Blessed John Henry Newman gave a series of lectures to Anglicans of the Oxford Movement who wanted the Established (Anglican) Church to adopt pre-Reformation beliefs and practices. In one of these addresses, he pointed out that the Establishment hostility to this movement meant they had to make a choice:

But, first, there is a point to be cleared up. Either the movement is not from God, or the Establishment is not: we must abjure our principles, or abandon our communion. If we abandon our communion, we do so as denying that it is from God; if we continue in it, we do so as not denying it. 


 John Henry Newman, Lectures on Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Submitting to the Catholic Church (London: Burns & Lambert, 1850), 139.

This point wast they needed to make a choice between fidelity to one or the other because they couldn’t have it both ways. If they thought the Anglican Church was manmade, they needed to go where this Apostolic Church of God existed (Rome). But if they thought the Anglican Church was from God, it meant they had to abandon their movement because the Anglicans rejected their movement. They couldn’t have it both ways. His point was, if they wanted to follow God, they had to embrace the Catholic faith and not try to pretend Anglicanism was a third branch alongside Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

The Application: Do We Declare the Church Manmade to Defend Our Movements?

Church struggle

His dilemma is relevant today for the movements tempted to dissent from the Catholic Church. Whether it is a case of radical traditionalists claiming they can disobey the post-Vatican II Church in favor of their movement, or whether it is a Catholic conformed to the world who wants the Church to change her moral teaching where it is inconvenient, we have to ask, what is manmade? The Catholic Church? Or one of these movements claiming she went the wrong way?

Blessed Cardinal Newman asked this to encourage people to go to the true Church. I repeat it to encourage people to stay in the true Church. 

If the Catholic Church comes from God, then obedience to God means obedience to the Church. She has the authority to address new situations or change disciplines on how to best serve God and guide the faithful to Him. In that case there are no breaks when the Church intends to teach. Individual (or groups of) bishops, priests, religious and laity can fall into error. But if we stay in communion with the successor of Peter, we stay in communion with the Church God promised to protect. In such a case, movements rejecting the authority of the Church must be manmade and are rebellious against God, not faithful to Him. 

On the other hand, if the Catholic Church is manmade then it only has the authority we choose to give it. If we don’t like something, we’re free to reject it. The problem is, there’s no reason for anyone else to accept what you accept. The radical traditionalist who likes the period between the Council of Trent and 1958 only has a preference. There’s no reason it’s any more valid than the parts they reject. Likewise, the dissenting Catholic who objects to certain teachings and invokes a “higher” belief taught by the Church has no basis for invoking that “higher belief.” If the Church is only manmade then the truth of her teaching depends on the human wisdom of the teacher. And, like every other human teacher, people often disagree about their value and relevance.

So, if the Church is manmade, she has no more standing than a political party or a think tank. Some of her ideas may be right, but we’re free to disagree about what those right ideas are. The Extraordinary form of the Mass is no more or less valid than a Clown Mass and dissenting with the Church on abortion is no more wrong than dissenting from the Church on social justice.

But if God founded the Catholic Church, then it matters a great deal whether we obey or disobey, whether we trust her evaluations in modern times or reject them.

The Conclusion: Claiming the Church Broke From Your Movement is Absurd and an Excuse for Dissent

To avoid the consequences, the person who rejects a certain part of Church teaching when it goes against his preference usually tries to claim the Church broke away from what God intended when the Church taught what they didn’t like. The radical traditionalist argues that the Church went wrong somewhere between 1958 (the election of St. John XXIII and 1970 (when the Missal changed). The secularized Catholic claims the Church went wrong in teaching “X is a sin” usually tries to argue that God intended the Church to be democratic and when Church teaching is against them, it’s “breaking” with what Jesus intended.

But if the Church can break and fall into error, then it undermines the authority of the teachings dissenters want to invoke. How does one know the Church didn’t break earlier? After all, that is what the non-Catholics argue. 

Trying to support a particular movement changing what the Church should be and trying to justify it by saying the Church itself fell into error at a certain moment in time (when it disagreed with you) is to declare the Church a manmade institution that can break and err. The Church has always claimed her teaching has been unbroken. The teaching has developed, but it has never contradicted itself. Moreover, the teaching authority of the Church has remained unbroken. Again, if one wants to argue that it has broken under Pope Francis, one has to acknowledge it could break under a previous Pope. But if God protected the Church from breaking and teaching error in the past, we can trust Him to protect it now and in the future.

This brings us to the modern version of Blessed John Henry Newman’s dilemma. 

  • If the Church is from God and rejects these dissenting movements, then we too must reject them if we would be faithful to God.
  • if the Church is not from God, then our favored dissenting movements have no more authority than any other dissenting movement we might despise.

The only rational choice is to stick to our belief that Church came from God, not man, and trust Him to protect the Church from teaching error, especially where souls are at stake. Otherwise, we are lost, never knowing which one of many competing interpretations of what God teaches is correct.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

When a Little Knowledge is Dangerous

When it comes to Church teachings that are unpopular, the common tactic is on one side of the coin to dismiss them as old teachings and point out how some teachings have changed from the past. People argue that If the Church changed teaching X, she can also change her teachings on contraception or divorce/remarriage. On the other side of the coin, when it comes to actions of the Church that people wanted to remain as they were, the common tactic is to appeal to the old writings and argue that they are irreformable and attempts to make changes are heretical.

These two attitudes demonstrate the truth of the adage, “A little knowledge is dangerous.” In both cases, the proponents cite a portion of a Church document with the intent to demonstrate that the Church has changed with the purpose of undermining the authority of the Church. The only difference between the two is that one cites it with the intention to alter other teachings (claiming that the Church’s refusal to change is unjustified) while the other cites it with the intention to reject changes they dislike.

I believe both groups display a lack of understanding about the Church and how she teaches. The fact is, when the Church teaches something is to be done or not done, we need to discern the moral absolutes that the Church holds always and the elements of what the Church mandates as how to follow the Church teaching when facing certain evils of a particular time.

The Case of Usury

For example, it is popular to cite the “fact” that the Church “changed her teaching” on lending money at interest. Since the Church seems to have changed from saying lending money at interest is a sin to saying it is not, the argument is that any Church teaching can be changed. The problem is this argument is based on a false understanding of what the Church taught. For example, Pope Benedict XIV wrote in the bull Vix pervenit (published in 1745) that, on one hand it is usury to loan money to a person in need with the intent of charging interest, but on the other hand he warned against extremes:

III. By these remarks, however, We do not deny that at times together with the loan contract certain other titles—which are not at all intrinsic to the contract—may run parallel with it. From these other titles, entirely just and legitimate reasons arise to demand something over and above the amount due on the contract. Nor is it denied that it is very often possible for someone, by means of contracts differing entirely from loans, to spend and invest money legitimately either to provide oneself with an annual income or to engage in legitimate trade and business. From these types of contracts honest gain may be made. (Vix pervenit #3)


 Claudia Carlen, ed., The Papal Encyclicals: 1740–1878 (Ypsilanti, MI: The Pierian Press, 1990), 16.

In other words, the Church did not change her teaching on usury. She merely recognized that there were some circumstances—not existing in the past—that permitted a legitimate return on investment. So, as I understand it, if somebody comes to me and says, “Dave, I need $20 for gas so I can drive to the hospital and see my sick child,” I would be committing usury if I said in reply, “Sure, just pay me back $30 next week.” But I wouldn’t be committing usury if I invested money in stocks or bonds, expecting interest in return. I’ll leave it to theologians to decide whether modern credit cards and payday loan companies commit usury (I’m inclined to think the latter certainly do), but the point is, the Church considered the changes to the ways economics worked and determined that investment was not the same thing as usury—though she would condemn usury disguised as investment.

It doesn’t always work that way. For example, in 1960, The Pill was invented. It worked differently than the traditional barrier methods of contraception, and people were asking whether that meant it was not contraception. So the Church investigated the question, “Is the pill contraception?” It soon turned out that the answer was yes. It still intended to take the sexual act and frustrate the potential of pregnancy. So Blessed Paul VI issued the encyclical affirming that all contraception was wrong. [†]

These examples are why I am not alarmed when Pope Francis calls for an investigation into an issue (for example, the question of Communion for the divorced and remarried). The fact that a question is asked does not mean that a change will be made. In fact, when it came to the question being raised at a press conference [*], the Pope replied,

Integrating in the Church doesn’t mean receiving communion. I know married Catholics in a second union who go to church, who go to church once or twice a year and say I want communion, as if joining in Communion were an award. It’s a work towards integration, all doors are open, but we cannot say, ‘from here on they can have communion.’ This would be an injury also to marriage, to the couple, because it wouldn’t allow them to proceed on this path of integration. 

For all of the fears and false hopes about the synod of the family changing Church teaching, it turned out that the Pope had no intention to change Church teaching from “X is a sin” to “X is not a sin.” He merely did what Benedict XIV and Blessed Paul VI did—he consulted with theologians to determine if the changing times involved new situations that were not covered by previous documents.

The Cases of Denouncing Recent Teaching from the Church

There are also cases where individual Catholics object to the teaching of the Church in the period from 1958 [When St. John XXIII was elected Pope] to the present, on the grounds that these things contradicted Church teachings from the past. It is argued that these earlier teachings were irreformable and therefore the changes must be heretical. This ranges across many issues. The Vatican II document on religious freedom [§], Blessed Paul VI making changes to the Mass and so on.

In these cases, people overlook the fact that even when the Church teaches on irreformable doctrine, there are elements where the Church is making disciplines which apply to certain times but the successors to the Chair of Peter can change if they determine a single dispensation or an overall change of practice is needed. For example, Benedict XIV ruled, “The Roman Pontiff is above canon law, but any bishop is inferior to that law and consequently cannot modify it.” (Magna nobis #3). Some two hundred years later, Pius XII would point out that when it comes to changing practices, “If it was at one time necessary even for validity by the will and command of the Church, every one knows that the Church has the power to change and abrogate what she herself has established." (Sacramentum Ordinis #3). [∞]

Here’s an example. In 1769, Pope Clement XIV issued a document on avoiding the appearance of simony, and seeking to reduce corruption in the Church. Now the evils of simony and corruption are not something which will change with time. If a member of the clergy demands money for performing a work of the Church, that is always wrong. [∑] However, the things Clement XIV discusses in Decet quam maxime involves all sorts of discussion of what sorts of fees could be collected and by whom. He talks about aureus and obols and junios. Coins were once used in the Papal States, but no longer exist (just try to work out the rate of exchange for an 18th century obol to a modern Euro for example). When a future Pope decides to make changes to the rules set in Decet quam maxime, he will not be changing the teaching of the Church on simony. He’ll simply be applying the teaching of the Church to the conditions that exist in modern times.

This is how changes can happen in the Mass. The Mass is of vital importance to the Catholic. No Pope could abolish the Mass or change the meaning of the Eucharist. But some people confuse the discipline of the Mass with the essence of the Mass. St. Pius V reformed the Mass in 1570, abolishing rites less than 200 years old (Quo Primum). Some Catholics interpret the words of this bull... 

Therefore, no one whosoever is permitted to alter this notice of Our permission, statute, ordinance, command, precept, grant, indult, declaration, will, decree, and prohibition. Would anyone, however, presume to commit such an act, he should know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.

…as if it meant that nobody in the Church could make any changes to the Mass. But his successors did make changes to the Mass. Changes were made in 1604 (Clement VIII), 1634 (Urban VIII), 1884 (Leo XIII made official the changes since 1634), 1920 (Benedict XV, completing the work of St. Pius X), 1955 (Pius XII, radically changing the Mass for certain holy days) and 1962 (St. John XXIII, implementing the changes of Pius XII). That’s not even counting the changes between the first century AD to St. Gregory the Great. Basically, it’s a cycle of changes are made, and then the missal is eventually revised to implement all the changes between editions.

The point is, nobody the time understood Quo Primum to mean the Mass was irreformable. The successors of St. Pius V did not consider themselves heretics in making changes. [ø]. The objections that “denied" Blessed Paul VI the right to make changes to the Mass tend to be ignorant of those facts.

A Little Knowledge is Dangerous

That ignorance is ultimately the problem. Both tactics try to create the appearance of a break where there is no break. The appearance of a break only seems to be there if one is not aware of all the facts of the case. The danger comes because the person who does not know all the facts is unaware of the fact that he or she does not know. When a person is aware that they do not know something, they can learn. But when a person is ignorant of the fact that they do not know, it never occurs to them to see what the facts are. Thus they can build elaborate theologies of dissent without ever considering the possibility that they are the ones in error.

The remedy is to stop assuming that one’s personal knowledge and interpretation of Church documents is sufficient to pass judgment on the teaching authority of the Church. When one sees a conflict, the first task is to see if one’s own understanding is correct. The next step is to determine what the truth actually is, and how the Church herself understands the document. Catholic theology is not done in the same way as “the plain sense” that some Protestants ascribe to Scripture. We believe that to understand a Church document, we need to read it in the sense that the Church understands it and not assume that the Pope and the magisterium has somehow forgotten or chose to ignore the older documents.

In the over a quarter century since I first began my studies of Catholic theology, one thing I have learned has stuck with me: Just because one cannot personally find an answer to a seeming conflict does not mean the Church has no answer. Sometimes it has taken me years to find the needed information, but I have always found out that the apparent conflict did not exist when studied. It was that searching that led me to realize that when I haven’t found the right answer yet, the solution was to trust that the Church had an answer which I had not discovered yet.

The reason for this is, instead of trusting in my own knowledge or in the personal holiness and wisdom of the individuals in charge of the Church, I trust that God keeps His promises to protect His Church. I have never been let down in this trust.



[†] Unfortunately part of the commission issued to study the issue exceeded their mandate and argued “Yes, it’s contraception, but the Church should change her teaching.” They had no right to do this and the Pope was under no obligation to make their abuse into Church teaching.

[*] Literacy and research skills seem to be lacking nowadays when people misinterpret these things. People tend to give full weight to the media rushing to scoop their competitors by sending out quotes without context, and then use those reports to interpret the actual transcripts that are released later when they should be evaluating the reports by the transcripts.

[§] Judging by reactions, people never bothered to read it. Otherwise they would have read the part in Dignitatis Humanae about:

First, the council professes its belief that God Himself has made known to mankind the way in which men are to serve Him, and thus be saved in Christ and come to blessedness. We believe that this one true religion subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus committed the duty of spreading it abroad among all men. Thus He spoke to the Apostles: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have enjoined upon you” (Matt. 28:19–20). On their part, all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it. (DH #1)


 Catholic Church, “Declaration on Religious Freedom: Dignitatis Humanae,” in Vatican II Documents (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011).

[∞] I have encountered some people who, legalistically, try to limit these documents to only applying to one specific case: the minimum canonical age for marriage (in Magna Nobis) or whether the imposition of hands was enough for ordination (Sacramentum Ordinis). However, in both cases, the Popes assumed that they had the authority to change how Church disciplines were to be applied in a given time.

[∑] I’m of the opinion that Pope Francis’ speaking about eliminating fees for annulments altogether is not just based on avoiding a barrier to getting an annulment but is also based on the concern that some people think of it as “buying” an annulment.

[ø] The principal weakness to the appeal to Quo Primum is that we have had these missals existing uncontested. If the Mass of 1570 was irreformable, then any changes by Popes would have been heretical. Some try to counter this by saying it was the same Mass since the time of St. Gregory the Great (Pope from 590 to 604) but this gnores the existence of valid Masses before his pontificate that had differences in form.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Do We Trust in God? Or In Ourself?

At times everyone fears what the truth might require…that accepting the truth might ask us to give up more than we want to give. This is especially the case when we have staked our claim on a position that is being challenged. If we follow the truth, and truth tells us that something we held important is actually not true, then we have to admit that we were in error. That is hard to do. Nobody wants to admit they were wrong—especially when they have to admit that their opponent might have been in the right all the time. That’s a hard situation to reconcile, and probably why many find it difficult to go from non-Christian to Christian, and from non-Catholic to Catholic. (Read some of the conversion stories out there and see how hard it was for some of them to come across to our Faith. Some of us who were already here as a part of the Catholic Christian faith either forget or never knew the difficulty of the conversion from error to truth and to admit that what they defended as truth was actually falsehood.

So why is it, when it comes to the Catholic faith which we profess to be the true Church, do we fear when the Church teaching challenges us? Why do Catholics get angry when the Pope speaks in a way which challenges our comfortable behaviors? When we’re reminded about teachings that challenge our political preferences? If we profess to believe in God, and that the Church binds and looses with the authority given to her by Our Lord, why do we fear to have our flawed understanding changed? Is it because we fear that the Church is falling into error? Or is it because we fear the consequences of having to admit we followed the faith incorrectly at times?

In other words, it’s a question of whether we are trusting in God or trusting in ourselves.

If we trust in God and recognize our own tendency towards sin and error, we can trust in the teaching authority the Church to remain under God’s protection even when the individual Bishops, Priests, Religious and Laity act sinfully and in error. We can trust that when the Church teaches and it goes at odds with what we feel comfortable with, we can change and trust in God to protect us from being misled—if we follow His Church.

But if our confidence is in ourselves—In our confidence to interpret the Scriptures or Church documents and reject anything that challenges what we feel comfortable with—then we put ourselves before God. Ultimately, we claim to know the truth and don’t feel the need to pray for guidance from God, or to obey the teaching of the Church. The funny thing is when we claim to know the truth to the point that we know better than the Church, it always seems to work in our favor. There’s seldom a case where we acknowledge our need to change. It’s always the other person who needs to change.

I think in these times, when growing numbers of Catholics are openly showing their contempt for the teachings of the Church, the teachers of the Church or both, we need to start asking ourselves where we put our trust. If our trust is in God first, then we can trust Him to protect His Church from teaching error. In such a case, we can avoid overreacting to the times when people in the Church make mistakes or do wrong. We can trust that God established a Church where we can know where to look for the truth when there are multiple factions defying it. We know that no matter how bleak things look, our enemies will not prevail against us in the end.

But if our trust is in ourselves, then we are going to become embittered and living in fear as the members of the Church continue to do things differently than we would have them done—and thus be suspicious of every change. We tell ourselves that if only the Church would do things our way, then we would not be having these problems. Some think the Church needs to change her teaching on divorce or on contraception. Others blame the rise of dissent on the diminished use of Latin and the introduction of the Ordinary form of the Mass. They say that if only the Church had changed a teaching here or not changed a discipline there, all would be well. But since the Church is having problems, it is assumed to confirm that the individual is right and the Church is wrong.

But that’s no way to live. There’s always going to be differences and disputes and disobedience—even among Catholics who generally want the same thing. If we think that our personal standards are the truth to live by, then there is going to be an awful lot of heretics out there (in our minds) and we may end up trying to oppose something that is not even wrong.

But if we recognize that God is the one whose standards we are called to follow, and that His is the Power and the Glory, we might turn our ears to listen to Him and see if we’re not acting more like Saul the Pharisee instead of Paul the Apostle, seeking to change if we do so. We recognize that the authority God gave to bind and loose is not in ourselves, but in the Church herself.

Ultimately, when we trust in God, we allow ourselves to be humble. That doesn’t mean to be passive in the face of wrongdoing, but it does mean that we need to open our eyes, ear and heart to discern what His will may be. But if we trust in ourselves, we become arrogant, and we are so sure we are right, that we forget the possibility of seeing if we’ve missed the point in following Him.

All of us (and not just the other guy) need to pray and discern to see where our trust truly lies. If it is in ourselves, then we need to pray for a change of heart.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Hating the Word of Salvation

2. “Whilst the guilty approach unto me to eat up my flesh” [Psalm 27:2]. Whilst the guilty come near to recognise and insult me, that they may exalt themselves above me in my change for the better; that with their reviling tooth they may consume not me, but rather my fleshly desires. “Mine enemies who trouble me.” Not they only who trouble me, blaming me with a friendly intent, and wishing to recall me from my purpose, but mine enemies also. “They became weak, and fell.” Whilst then they do this with the desire of defending their own opinion, they became weak to believe better things, and began to hate the word of salvation, whereby I do what displeases them.


[Augustine of Hippo, Expositions on the Book of Psalms, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 8, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 64.]

America, to be blunt, is metastasizing into something terrible and dangerous—a perversion of what it was intended to be. It prides itself as being the most advanced defender of freedom, while it is actually moving backwards to where the freedoms we thought were inalienable are now quite alienated—where the rights for all have been replaced with government privileges for favored groups. The Church has warned against this decline, and has been declared an “enemy of freedom” for her pains.

It is no longer even enough for Americans to tolerate relativism about morality that was pushed through out the 1980s and 1990s. Then, the insistence was people should be allowed to believe whatever they like and people who disagree with this position should have no right to impose otherwise. Today, whoever does not accept the current diktat about changing morality to accept what was once condemned as morally wrong can expect to be viewed with suspicion at best and, increasingly, hostility which is unchecked—and even encouraged by—the government.

Christians who have not compromised (and that number is sadly dwindling) and reject the idea that we can change morality to suit themselves are greeted with increasing hostility. It’s no longer a case of:

Now it’s a case of “If you will not be turned, you will be destroyed!"

We can see this in the antics by the media over the Church. An attempt to co-opt the Catholics by misrepresenting the words of the Pope and trying to make the Pope appear to be in opposition to the bishops, the Pope has said too many things standing up for the traditional Catholic teaching. Only the least informed still believe he is going to change the teaching of the Church. So, we’re seeing the media move away from the lie that “Even your Pope is with us,” towards seeing an increase in hostility towards the Church in general.

This increased hostility is simply because the Church will not go along with calling evil “good.” The world wants approval for its sins. But the Church will not give this approval. The Church speaks out against many things that the world wants to do. Not because she is reactionary, or ornery. She speaks out because she is tasked with going out to the world in order to spread the Word of Salvation and to speak out against the behaviors which separate humanity from God.

The world does not mind a belief in God. What it does is resent a belief in God which requires change in behavior. People who want to think of themselves as “good,” resent being told that they do evil—especially when the evil condemned is something they do not want to give up. People have no problems speaking against evil which offends them, but tell them that the behavior they like is wrong and people become hostile.

The message of the Church is simple:

  • God Exists and loves us.
  • But, we are alienated from Him.
  • He sent His Son to free us from our sins and restore our relationship with Him—which is impossible to do apart from Him
  • We must respond by ceasing to live in a way which separates us from Him

Unfortunately, people don’t want the conditions of repentance. They want Cheap Grace, where God’s grace is given them without needing to do anything. They hate the requirement that we respond to God’s call in any meaningful way. But most people don’t want to actually reject God outright. They want to think of themselves as being “good.” So they respond by pretending that anything in the Christian message which says they are sinners who need to repent must be invented by the Church. The Church is seen as “cold and bureaucratic” because she insists on being faithful to God’s Great Commission.

Ultimately, the hostility to the Church in these matters is a rebellion against God while people pretend they are not rebelling against God. People tell themselves that if only the Church would change, things would be fine. But the problem is, the Church is only teaching what God has taught. If people hate this teaching, they are hating the Word of Salvation—even if they try to pretend that they love God.

People want what H. Richard Niebuhr called “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” But that is not the reality. It is the complete perversion of the truth.

People have free will of course. They can refuse to accept what God called them to do (repent) and can refuse to hear the means He chose to reach out to them (the Church). But they need to realize that, in doing so, they are not rejecting a human group. They are rejecting God (Luke 10:16). That’s pretty serious. We need to realize that this life and this world is not all there is. What we are called to goes beyond the present. What we choose to do has consequences. If we choose what goes against God’s call, and refuse to repent, we will eventually discover that we have used our free will to our ruin. It will not be a case of God being petty or the Church being bureaucratic. It will be a case of us refusing to board the ship before it sails. Once it sails, it will be too late to get on board. 

The Flood(How Can A Person Blame God or the Church, Once the Ship Has Sailed, When the Person Was the One who Refused to Board In the First Place?)

21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,* but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The "Ex Cathedra Only" Argument and Why It is Wrong


Not all Catholics take the flagrant line of rejecting authority. Some try to portray themselves as perfectly willing to follow the teachings of the Church—if only the Church will explain themselves in a way which is extremely rare. That’s the claim that they’ll obey all of the teachings of the Church which are infallibly declared. Of course the problem is the Church very seldom makes use of the formal declaration of infallibility (also known as ex cathedra—literally from the chair—referring to the seat of authority the Pope possesses by his office and is a teaching that all Catholics are bound to accept as revealed truth).

In other words, it’s disobedience and rejection again, denying that the Church can teach in a binding way in any other form.

I saw a lot in the past from Catholics who were trying to defend abortion and so called “same sex marriage.” The argument was that the Church never made an ex cathedra definition on the subject, so the teaching was not binding. Unfortunately, now some Catholics are trying to defend torture in the same way: “Well, the Church teaching isn’t made ex cathedra, so it isn’t binding on us. It’s merely optional."

The reasoning seems to be similar to the Fundamentalist who rejects the teachings from the Church Fathers of the first centuries of Christian history. They argument they presented to me was: If the Bible is inerrant, but the Church Fathers are not, then the Church Fathers might be teaching error, and it is not safe to follow their lead. They follow that up with pointing to the differences between their personal interpretation of the Bible and the understanding of the Church Fathers and concluding these differences show it is the Church Fathers in error (never themselves).

Likewise, the ex cathedra only Catholic argues that the infallible statements of the Church are protected from error so we know they are safe. But we don’t know if the non-infallible teachings of the Church are safe to follow. Like the Fundamentalist, these Catholics match the Church teaching against their own personal interpretation of what the Church is supposed to be, and whatever they dislike is considered to be proof of error.

But their reasoning that only the ex cathedra statements are to be followed is based on faulty reasoning.

The Logical Flaw With the Argument

That defense is not a valid defense. The Church has never taught that this was the only way she could teach to the world. It’s an invention based on a false interpretation of Church authority. The basic form is:

  • All [ex cathedra statements] are [that which Must be obeyed] (All A is B)
  • [Statement X] is not an [ex cathedra Statement] (C is not a Part of A)
  • Therefore [Statement X] is not [that which Must be obeyed] (Therefore C is not a part of B)

In logic we call this Denying the Antecedent, which is not a valid argument. That is because the fact that C is not a part of A does not mean that C is not a part of B. We can demonstrate that with a diagram:

We Do Not Know Where C IsC might or might not be part of B, but we don’t know.
The Red Line indicates this uncertainty. 

If C (Statement X) is a part of B (that which must be obeyed) the argument is false. If it is not part of B, then it is true (but the argument does not prove that). So at best, this defense is unproven. At worst, it’s false. So we need to investigate this. Does the Church decree one way or another on what to do when the statement of teaching is not ex cathedra?

Data: What the Church Says on Her Teachings

In fact she does, and what she teaches knocks this “ex cathedra only" argument flat. Let’s look at some of these decrees.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent”422 which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.

Moving backwards, we read the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium #25:

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.

Moving further back to Pope Pius XII in Humani Generis #20:

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.

Finally, we can go back to the Vatican I document Pastor Aeternus (which defined infallibility) Chapter III:

And since, by the divine right of apostolic primacy, one Roman Pontiff is placed over the universal Church, We further teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful,* and that in all causes the decision of which belongs to the Church recourse may be had to his tribunal,† but that none may reopen the judgement of the Apostolic See, than whose authority there is no greater, nor can any lawfully review its judgement.‡ Wherefore they err from the right path of truth who assert that it is lawful to appeal from the judgements of the Roman Pontiffs to an Œcumenical Council, as to an authority higher than that of the Roman Pontiff.

If then any shall say that the Roman Pontiff has the office merely of inspection or direction, and not full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which belong to faith and morals, but also in those things which relate to the discipline and government of the Church spread throughout the world; or assert that he possesses merely the principal part, and not all the fullness of this supreme power; or that this power which he enjoys is not ordinary and immediate, both over each and all the Churches and over each and all the pastors of the faithful; let him be anathema.

The Church has made clear in her teachings that when the Pope teaches in a way that is not ex cathedra but still teaches formally on an issue, or when the bishops speak in the name of the Church (and in communion with the Pope), not just in matters of faith and morals but in matters of discipline and governing the Church, we are called to give assent to these teachings and adhere to them. Looking at these statements, the "ex cathedra only” crowd has staked out a position that the Church has rejected.

Ordinary and Extraordinary Magisterium

The problem with their thinking is that it seems to treat the ex cathedra definitions as if it were a sort of inspired teaching and the rest of the teachings as if the Church was just “making things up as they go.” That’s to miss the point. The Church teaches in different levels of emphasis, based on the needs of the people. The ex cathedra statement is used to define something in such a way as to eliminate any doubt. So, if there are two positions, X and Not-X, and the Church infallibly defines X, then it is made clear that the position Not-X is not compatible with Catholic belief.

But just because the Church has not made an ex cathedra declaration on a subject does not mean one can ignore the declarations made. The Church has not made an ex cathedra declaration on adultery, abortion, homosexual acts, etc. But the Church has continued to pass on the teachings that these things are sinful and may never be done. Do we dare assert that these are the opinions of the Church?

We cannot do so and claim we are being faithful to the Church. The Church continues to make clear that the Church teaching is to be followed from age to age, and emphasizes elements of the teaching that are being neglected in a specific age.

See, when the Church uses ordinary and extraordinary, she is describing that which is the normal way to do things and that which needs to be done in a way outside of the normal way. Ordinary comes from the Latin ordinarius, indicating the regular or usual way things are done, while extraordinary comes from the Latin extra ordinem meaning‘outside the normal course of events.’ The Church ordinarily teaches through the Pope and the bishops in communion with him stating what the Church believes, and calling the faithful to give their assent (agreement) and docility (readiness to accept instruction). But when there is a strong need, the Church can make an extraordinary teaching, saying “We define X in such a way that there can be no more attempts to ignore our usual teaching."

We believe that when it comes to a matter of faith and morals, the Church will be protected from teaching error—otherwise, how could we know if any Pope was teaching truth or whether following him would lead to our damnation? The extraordinary ex cathedra declaration is a special tool which is used in special circumstances. The ordinary teaching of the Church is the usual way the Church makes known what is compatible and incompatible with being a Christian.

Thus, the ex cathedra only Catholic is denying the authority of the Church when she teaches.

The Choice Must Be Made

So, now that it has been made clear: the Church has never taught that only ex cathedra teaching is to be obeyed while the rest can be treated as an opinion. So, now people who have staked out that claim have to make a choice. They can either decide to give their assent to the Church teaching, recognizing that they have erred in the past, or they can cling to their error out of obstinance, now claiming that the Church itself is teaching error while they are not. It is a decision of humility vs. pride—do I admit my own limits and trust in Christ to protect the Church? Or do I hold to pride and assume that I cannot err and the Church teaching must be in error when they conflict?

We need to pray for people faced with this decision. We want them to accept God’s grace. We must also avoid the approach of the pharisee towards the tax collector. Just because we haven’t fallen into obstinacy over this issue, doesn’t mean we won’t do so in other areas where we have comfortably accepted something in our society that goes against the teaching of the Church. We are called to constantly look at our lives and discover where we are not following Christ—seeking to amend our life in this area.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Will the Antichrist Catch Christians by Surprise?

Preliminary Note

Many people tend to fall into the false dilemma of "either A or B." If the author speaks of the dangers of A, it's assumed he supports B. This article, an expansion of one I wrote in 2011, is not written with the intent of praising liberalism (which today embraces some monstrous evils and calls them good)  but rather seeks to warn people to avoid thinking, "I'm not liberal so I'm safe."


I've noticed that whenever someone writes a religious novel about the antichrist what normally sticks out is the political views of the author. Basically, the antichrist is seen as a charismatic liberal. The Christians who are faithful have a conservative bent.

Modern Catholic takes on the subject tend to be similar to the Protestant "Left Behind" series. The remnant is conservative. An antipope comes to power who appeals to liberals and has to be opposed.

Such a scenario, Protestant or Catholic, is one not likely to do more than physical harm to the conservative Christian. So long as you vote Republican you're safe from being deceived it seems.

Scripture to Consider

But Scripture warns us about the faithful being deceived. 1 Tim 4:1 tells us,

"Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the last times some will turn away from the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and demonic instructions"

Matthew 24:24 tells us,

"False messiahs and false prophets will arise, and they will perform signs and wonders so great as to deceive, if that were possible, even the elect."

And 1 Cor 10:12 reminds us,

"Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall."

So it seems that the faithful can be deceived. I don't think that means people will be deceived into making a 180° change in their way of thinking. St. Paul warns in 2 Cor 11:13-15 that false apostles abound and even the devil can appear as an angel of light.

Current Events to Ponder

The more I see how conservatives react to the Church teaching on Social Justice, the more I wonder if the antichrist will actually turn out to be some sort of conservative who promotes certain popular teachings and seeks to separate the conservative Catholic from union with the Pope who is portrayed as being in error. Certainly false seers like Maria Divine Mercy make such claims today.

Christ's Promise and the Church

But Christ's promise was to Peter and his successors, the rock on which He builds His Church. He promised to be with His Church always and that the gates of hell would not persevere against it. It seems to me that no matter how far our society declines, the true Church will always be found in communion with the See of St. Peter. If one places himself in opposition to the Pope, regardless of how his politics might appeal to us, we cannot follow such a person.

The Possible Deception

The devil doesn't have to turn a person into a radical proponent of abortion and so-called "gay marriage" to endanger his or her soul. It's just as effective to twist the values of a person just enough that he or she becomes the judge of the Christian teaching using the ruler of his or her ideology.

To the person who is certain he or she is right, the threat is failing to consider whether or not he or she has wandered astray in relation to what God calls them to be.

If the devil can persuade a person that only members of the contrary ideology can be deceived, that's a large part of the way to lead them into deception.

The Refuge

The refuge is to hold fast to the Church under the authority of the Pope. Christ the builder chose Peter as the rock on which He would build His Church. We believe that the successor of St. Peter is protected from teaching error in matters of faith and morals. Without such protection, no Christian could ever know if he or she was faithfully doing God's will or interpreting the Scriptures correctly.

The person who tries to claim that the Church under the leadership of the Pope can teach error in matters pertaining to salvation is effectively denying Christ will protect His Church from error. Because that means Jesus would not be doing what He promised, that is a denial of Jesus' ability or reliability.

To remain faithful to the Church under the Pope is not some sort of papalolatry. It's having faith in Jesus Christ. To believe that the Church has fallen or will fall is a sign of having lost faith in Jesus Christ.

That's all an antichrist needs to do to deceive the faithful.

Now mind you, I don't say this is HOW the end times will happen. But it is certainly a threat to souls that destroys faith in Christ without the person noticing that loss of faith.

Monday, June 21, 2010

On Self Deception

Sometimes a way seems right to a man, but the end of it leads to death! (Proverbs 16:25)

One thing all Christians can be tempted by is self deception.  We think that an exception from what God commands can be made for us.  We think of excuses as to why what God teaches should not apply to us, or why the Church teaching can't be what God means.  After all, if we're undergoing some sort of physical or emotional distress, or if we want something the Church teaches is wrong, it clearly means that the Church must be wrong, doesn't it?

The reason this self-deception so often succeeds is that we do not understand why the Church holds what it does, or we do not understand the words of Christ in the right context.  For example we see some people take the words of Christ against judging and contrast them with the words of St. Paul saying some things bring destruction and conclude that St. Paul missed the point of what Christ was teaching.  What this ignores is Matt 7:5, where the context indicates Christ is not speaking of letting everyone do as the please, but of judging others for their minor faults (the splinter) while ignoring one's own major faults (the beam).  Paul was quite aware of his own faults.

The problem is, in contrasting the "merciful Jesus" and the "harsh Paul," we forget the most vivid descriptions of Hell and warnings of judgment come from Jesus and not St. Paul.  Thus we instead invent for ourselves a God who will not punish, but will forgive us when we live in opposition to His teachings… even though we have no intent to change our ways out of love for Him.

There are many ways we deceive ourselves into thinking that the words of Jesus are not binding to us, excuses to explain why the absolute statements of Christ merely apply to "other people."

Ad Misericordiam

The appeal to pity is one of these ways we excuse ourselves.  The ad misericordiam (also known as the appeal to pity) mistakes a misfortune for what might happen as a reason for which the teaching should be set aside.  For example, the couple who wants to use artificial contraception, might bring up the large number of children they already have (usually 2.1), or their financial situation as "not being able to afford another child" and say that the Church teaching is "cruel."

However this appeal to financial straits does not answer the question: Why not practice self control?  In other words, the appeal to pity does not give a reason for changing a belief, but merely an attempt at sympathy to make one bend the rules.

Proclaiming Infallibility of the Self, Denial of Infallibility of the Magisterium

How often do we hear the claim, "It just seems right to me" or "Your church teaching is so cruel!"?  Ultimately this boils down to the claim that what one personally feels is right.  You can see this in a number of ways: Atheism seems to me to be more logical than a belief in God when you consider science.  Really?  So, we have a statement which makes the individual's assessment of atheistic claims, theological claims and interpretation of science infallible.  However, when it comes down to it, such a statement is really a statement of preference on how they would want the world to be.

If one wants to invoke their belief that the Church teaching is wrong on divorce, the question is: On what basis do we claim the Catholic interpretation wrong?  We can demonstrate the problem this way:

  1. The Catholic teaching is denied to be authoritative
  2. The individual's personal interpretation is claimed to be authoritative
  3. Yet, if the Catholic interpretation is not binding on all, it is a personal interpretation
  4. Thus, under this reasoning, personal interpretation can err.
  5. So how does the individual who denies the Catholic teaching know his or her own views are right?

It has been remarked that while there is a shortage of priestly vocations, there is no shortage of vocations to the Papacy.  This seems to be true.  We deceive ourselves to think our preferences are what is right, and forget that we are affected by original sin, which inclines us to choose our personal desires over what God wills for us.

Confusing Preference and Dogma

Another common problem with self deception is the confusing of personal preference with dogma… and vice versa.  Personal preference is when we judge something "correct" or "heretical" based on what we would like a thing to be.  When we see certain traditionalists arguing that the Ordinary Form of the Mass is dangerous or heretical, they have no basis for their view.  They are using these terms as a rhetorical embellishment to show their dislike for the vernacular, the removal of unnecessary elements (such as the twice recited Confiteor), guitar masses and the like.

Such actions or tolerance on the part of the Magisterium are certainly not heretical, but because the individual dislikes them, they are so labeled.  The result is, the individual makes himself the infallible one and denies the Church has the right to make changes he or she disagrees with.

On the other side of the coin, the one who reduces a dogma to a preference tends to respond to a papal pronouncement they dislike with that's just his opinion.  Thus teachings on contraception, divorce and abortion are written off as an opinion, or even a partisan opinion.  Thus we see certain theologians challenging certain papal statements, claiming the Pope is in error in his "view."

Now, if the Pope writes a personal work, such as Pope John Paul II's Crossing the Threshold of Hope or Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth, these are not intended to be binding documents.  However, if the Pope says (as he did in Evangelium Vitae #62):

"I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium"

then any claim that this is a mere opinion of the Pope is false.  The Pope has invoked his authority and must be obeyed on this matter, if one is to continue to claim to be Catholic and not a dissenter.

Yet Modernists and Traditionalists alike make use of the false statement that if the Church has not made a declaration ex cathedra, it is not binding, but merely an opinion.  It is especially ironic that certain traditionalists make use of this argument, as it would make the condemnation of the Modernists by St. Pius X a mere "opinion."

Argument By Proxy

Some attacks on Church authority are done by proxy.  The argument put forward is not a defense of the dissenter's opinion, but rather an attack on another position held by the Church.  This position is alleged to be in error, and therefore the dissenter doesn't have to listen to the Church teaching he or she really is opposed to.

The problem is twofold.  First, is the rather obvious question: where is the proof the Church is wrong on this proxy argument  Second is when one sets the proxy argument up, it doesn't mean other Church teachings are wrong.  It works like this:

  1. The Church teaches [X] on Position [A]
  2. The Church is wrong on Position [A]
  3. Therefore the Church is wrong on Position [B]

The problem is, even if the claim was true of the Church being wrong on Position [A] which needs to be proven by the way, it would not have any connection to whether the Church was wrong on Position [B].  It's a non sequitur.

The Lacking Component… and its Counterfeit

In all of these cases, what is lacking is an attempt to establish what is true.  Instead, we have a position which seeks to set aside the issue of truth in exchange for emotion.  Labels are used to question the authority of the Church position, but do not in themselves demonstrate a lack of authority on the part of the Church.

Essentially all of these place emotion over the truth.  Emotion is a counterfeit for truth.  We can have passionate feelings for things that are true.  However, we can also have passionate feelings for things which are false.  How many times have people gotten into bad relationships because the emotion clouds their ability to see the harm the relationship is doing?

Now emotion in itself is not a bad thing.  Nothing from God is evil, provided it is used as God intends.  However, if we let it master us, tainted by concupiscence then we can place ourselves in opposition to God because we do not consider the possibility that our original sin can lead us to self deception and that we can be choosing evil, and think it must be good because we forget we are letting our passions rule us.

Truth speaks to What IS

Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)

"…it was not a great philosopher but a fool who asked that question."  (Peter Kreeft, The Best Things in Life, page 95)

Pilate sees the concept of 'truth' as a harmless abstraction with no ties with reality.  The truth is different.  What is true can have consequences based on whether I heed the truth or not.

While many argue about whether truth may be known, when one comes down to it, we certainly can know truths.  If I throw a rock straight up in an open field, I know it is true that I had damn well better get out of the way before it comes down.  If a label reads poison, I know it is true that I will be harmed to ingest it.  Whether or not I scoff at whether we can know truth, if I fail to act on information that says "what is," I can be harmed by that failure.

Aristotle was famous for describing truth and falsehood  as, “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.”  If I say something is about God's teaching when it is not, I speak falsely.  To those who claim to be followers of Christ, we must recognize that God has revealed Himself to us and has revealed to us truth which we must follow.

Now, to speak that something which is not, is; or that something which is, is not; is to speak falsely.  It may not be a deliberate lie, such as in the case of a person who is mistaken on the subject he speaks on, but it is to speak falsely all the same. 

Another characteristic is that truth cannot contradict truth.  If God  is truth and He calls homosexual acts a sin, then a person does not speak truth if he calls them good.  Such a person may say this falsehood out of defiance, or out of sincere but mistaken belief, but his sincerity in his belief that the Church is wrong in saying what God requires does not make his belief right.


In all cases, what we must beware of is the confusing our desires with God's will.  The human person can deceive himself.  God doesn't want me to be unhappy, is a common mantra, but a false one.  It is better said, God desires what is truly good for us.  Sometimes, when we want something harmful, something which goes against God's will, God must thwart our personal plans and our disordered human desires must be denied to our sorrow at not being given what we want.  Sometimes we want a thing for which the Church must say No, this is against what our Lord commanded.

In such cases, one must ask, "Is this truly God's will to oppose the Church as being in error, or am I the one who has been deceived?"  "On what basis can I claim this?"

We ignore these questions to our peril.