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[Apocalypse (Revelation) 8:13]

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

By What Authority? By Fr. Marshall Roberts

By What Authority? 
By Fr. Marshall Roberts
The title of this post might imply that it is a review of a book by Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson, who under this title wrote a novel treating of the English Reformation. As interesting as that topic might be, this post will deal with another subject that might equally claim a right to such a title, and that is the present collapse of authority as the means by which a Catholic lays hold of the truth.




In the crisis brought upon the Church by the triumph of Modernism at the Second Vatican Council, Catholics saw a division opening up between the authorities in the Church, such as the Pope or Diocesan bishops, and the content of the Faith itself. Archbishop Lefebvre summarized this conflict by his quote, well known in traditional Catholic circles, that “Satan’s masterstroke is to have succeeded in sowing disobedience to all Tradition through obedience.”  A gulf has opened in the life of Catholics. While the traditional teaching of the Church had before been defended by the hierarchy, the Council manifested a new tendency- to use the virtue of obedience in order to destroy the very Deposit of Faith the defense of which was the very purpose of the hierarchy. Thus, after the Council, Pope Paul VI and the world's bishops proceeded to replace the traditional Magisterium based on Scripture and Tradition with a new Magisterium. The venerable Rite of Mass that enshrined the Faith would now give way to a New Rite, the expression of the centrality of man even when it did not deny the existence of God. The results can be seen around us, liturgies more and more profane in their content, a great confusion as to dogma and whether it has any real power to bind the faithful, and the supreme doctrine of evolution expressed by the various "Magisteria" of each succeeding pope in which doctrinal "progress" replaces eternal and unshakeable truth.

Surely, such a disaster is unprecedented. But in the face of such confusion and heresy, what is to be the final answer? St. Vincent of Lerins posed a like question in the light of the various crises that had afflicted the early Church. His answer must stand even as it did in the fifth century:

"Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors."

It is of course the case that this Faith rests on Scripture and Tradition; but this same Faith must be transmitted to each generation of Catholics. It is to be found in the Magisterium of the Church, through which the Church teaches the faithful what is or is not to be found in the Deposit of Faith entrusted by Christ to His apostles. But in a crisis, when bishop is against bishop, and questions cannot be easily solved by recourse to the normal authorities, how is one to be sure that one possesses the truth? here St. Vincent provides the answer: recourse to what the Church has always taught, for all revelation ceased with the death of the last apostle, Saint John, and so revealed truth must come to us from the Church's beginning down to our own time. It is this witness of the Church's tradition that must be the voice that enables us to hold on to immemorial truth during the storm of heresy and unbelief.

This Archbishop Lefebvre knew well, for he based his entire programme after the Conciliar disaster on a simple fact: that which was now du jour in the Church would have resulted in his condemnation at the time when he was ordained and consecrated, while the very truths he was required to profess then were now found to be condemned. Over and over he appealed to the voice of the Roman Magisterium, to the ancient rites of the Church against the innovators. He did not appeal to his own episcopal charism; he did not appeal to the voice of his fledgling Society of Saint Pius X; he appealed to the immemorial teaching of the Roman See, to the Magisterium of the past popes and Councils that were now to be discarded by a new Magisterium and New Rite of Mass. It was, in fact, the test of Saint Vincent of Lérins: to be faithful to the immemorial voice of the Church heard before the crisis.

But the great Archbishop Lefebvre has long since left us. His Society, while weathering many storms, is not the barque of St. Peter. The wisdom of the Archbishop has given way to an appeal to authority, but it is the authority of the Society and not Tradition first of all. The faithful have grown tired of always being at variance with modern Rome, and while not giving up altogether, they have striven to sleep in the arms of the Society, trusting that it would be faithful. But to the Society was no promise ever given by Our Lord, and for a Catholic, no total allegiance can ever be given to any created authority- not the Society's Superior General, nor even the present Pope. It is to the voice of the Roman Pontiffs throughout the ages that the sheep must tune their ears, even as did the great Archbishop himself who fought in their name.

But the crisis in the Society has revealed another, more serious one. Some of the faithful have indeed seen that there is a problem: one cannot pretend that any manner of agreement with a Rome that does not believe in its own Magisterium is not worse than hopeless: it is treason. But the motivations are more complex than simple adhesion to truth and rejection of heresy. Distrust of the modernist hierarchy has deepened to a distrust of any authority outside of oneself. While Archbishop Lefebvre appealed to his knowledge of Tradition gained in Rome while a seminarian, the faithful now find in scattered internet articles the basis of their own final say in what constitutes Tradition. The caution of the Archbishop has changed into the unbounded pride of pastor-less sheep. Even some traditional priests have used the crisis to further private opinions as articles of Faith. It is indeed true that there is a sensus fidei that alerts the sheep to the presence of heresy. Such was the case with Nestorius, whose blasphemous claim that Our Lady could not be invoked as "Mother of God" resulted in riots in Constantinople. The faithful did not need to be theologians to sense the presence of the wolf in the bishop's words. But this sensus fidei was never meant to make of each of the faithful either a theologian or the final court of appeal in matters of Faith. Now the laity, without any instruction in dogmatic or moral theology claim equality with those who spent six years or more drinking in the Church's Magisterium and the teaching of the doctors. Is this reasonable or according to the mind of the Church? If it is, it was a great waste to have seminaries at all. Even as Luther, these so-called faithful believe that every truth can be as easily grasped by Joe Six-Pack as by the most learned theologian. There is no appeal to Catholic Tradition, to the works of the Magisterium, to the past theologians. There is only recourse to the divine internet, or to articles in the now infallible Magisterium of the Society, expressed online on Society websites. Perhaps the Archbishop is appealed to as the final court in matters of Faith or morals. But neither the Society nor the saintly Archbishop can claim such a privilege.

The faithful of the "Resistance" had better return to the mind of the Church if it wishes to avoid becoming a cult of the worst kind, in which the ignorant vomit forth their doctrines and opinions as if they were the  elixir of life. We must always bear in mind the rule of Saint Vincent, the doctrine, worship, and law of the Holy Roman Church our mother, while avoiding errors more grave even than those of the Modernists. For if in the end, the final authority is only the self, it makes little difference if the man is called a "modernist" or a "traditionalist"; the god he worships is only another name for himself. 

Fr Hesse Is the Church Indefectible in her Sufferings? 
Fr. Hesse, "Exposing the Worst Statements of Vatican II"