Tuesday, January 19, 2016

All Byte and No Barque

The reader is advised that the Bear has a degree from the Bavarian Equestrian and Culinary School of Theology. Nonetheless one should take prudent efforts to satisfy oneself that the Bear is right in such a serious matter.

Here is a surprising fact. The vast majority of Pope Francis' statements are not official teachings of the Church. Not his ridiculous sermons, not his handful of tropes about "the God of surprises," and global warming and the others.

This is because of a wonderful safety mechanism built into the Church.

The Bear has agonized over how to reconcile the doctrine of indefectibility with this Pope. Indefectibility means the Church cannot err in faith or morals, or as the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1917 says:
By this term is signified, not merely that the Church will persist to the end of time, but further, that it will be preserved unimpaired in its essential characteristics. The Church can never undergo any constitutional change, which will make it, as a social organism, something different from what it was originally. It can never become corrupt in faith or in morals; nor can it ever lose the Apostolic hierarchy, or the Sacraments through which Christ communicates grace to men." 
It turns out this problem is mostly illusory. The Pope is just a pope. He's not the Oracle of Delphi, or Big Brother, who rules by fiat. He is the master of the sound byte, but cannot wheel the Barque of Peter about at will.

"The Magisterium" is the teaching office of the Church.  The Vatican II document Dei Verbum says this:
The task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office [magisterium] of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously, and explaining it faithfully by divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit; it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.
Grisez, G. (1997). The Way of the Lord Jesus, Volume One: Christian Moral Principles (p. 840). Quincy, IL: Franciscan Press.

Note carefully that the magisterium is not above scripture or tradition, but must teach "only what has been handed on." If a pope were to purport to exercise his magisterium by teaching something at odds with the body of teachings that are preserved in scripture and tradition, in other words, all that has come before, this would present a serious problem. No matter how solemnly proclaimed, no pope could meaningfully say Mary is the fourth person of a holy quadernity. It wouldn't be infallible; in fact it would heresy.

Popes seldom make a solemn declaration ex cathedra (from the chair) infallibly deciding some issue. The last time was in 1950, when Pope Pius XII infallibly declared the assumption of Mary. (Although the canonization of saints is also an exercise of infallibility.) Most of the time we're talking about his ordinary magisterium. Through certain documents or repeated emphasis of the same themes in his speech, the Pope's teaching office can demand a religious assent from Catholics. But again, they must be an explication of already existing truth.

In fact, an Apostolic Letter by St. Pope John Paul II, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, which said "no" to women priests, was ruled to be infallible by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which ruling was approved by John Paul II.

On the other hand, the document "The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable" contains statements the Bear finds shocking. However, the Bear need not believe them because it is a non-magisterial document from the Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews. It does not constitute an exercise of the teaching authority of the Church.

So what is it? It's a glorified press release. A photo op. However, despite it's non-magisterial character, it lays down a marker which is unlikely to ever be challenged due to political realities. This is an example how even a non-magisterial statement can be very significant.

Another recent example is the Pope's execrable January Intentions video that appears to blatantly promote indifferentism, if not syncretism. That may clearly be disregarded, of course. You may find something that demands your religious assent in the Pope's comments, but the Bear does not. (You need to pray the intentions to gain a plenary indulgence; they're benign even for the Bear.)

For instance, since when has the existence of other religions -- and the Church has seen a lot of them -- demand that the Church "dialogue" with them? Has the Church always taught that "only through dialogue" may we eliminate intolerance and discrimination? Is that even true? How's that dialogue working with Islam? 

For that matter has the Church consistently taught that intolerance is always (gasp!) a bad thing? Has it not thundered forth anathemas to protect the faithful and reclaim the lost sheep? The Bear has somewhere recently cited every New Testament quote on "children of God" and isn't ready to concede that that title belongs to anyone but baptized Christians, although everyone is a creature of God. Or, perhaps, Popes and Councils have frequently taught that pagans, infidels, heretics and schismatics are "children of God, just like Catholics," and the Bear has just missed it.

Once again, though, while one need not grant religious assent to vague novelties, the damage is done. Now this is what everyone who sees the video (including 90% of Catholics) believes of the Church. After all, the Pope's in it, isn't he?

The prominence of the Pope is an artifact of modern media. The Bear believes it is unhealthy and un-Catholic. But Popes have never had it better, so the Bear doesn't see the situation improving.

What we seem to be getting, and getting a lot of, is mid-20th century-early 21st century suspect secular notions served up without even a baptism. From the need to constantly "dialogue" (yet never proselytize) to the religious crisis of global warming, what is truly Catholic is a weak signal from the past. It can barely cut through the barrage of vapid feel-good videos and the magisterium of the microphone. It may take a lot of faith to believe in indefectibility, but it's a welcome promise.

The Bear is not saying you must automatically reject everything the Pope says, and it makes sense to put the best possible construction on his statements. Believe it or not, the Bear sometimes takes some honey away with the stings he receives from the Holy Father's words. But just because the Pope doesn't make sense all the time, doesn't mean the Church is going to Hell in a hand basket.

It just looks that way.


  1. Marvellous exposition, Bear. I must credit Pope Francis with having driven me to re-educate myself on the fundamentals of Catholic dogma and the works of the Fathers of the Church, Denzinger, Ludwig Ott, et. al.

    I also credit Francis' with expanding the width and breadth of my daily prayer intentions appended to my rosary, i.e. conversion of the Jews and Pagans, atheists, the Suffering Souls in Purgatory, the victims of abortion, homosexuals, etc. Were it not for Francis' clamorous disinterest in these I should not have been so keen to remember them specifically.

    And while we can be assured the Church will exist in Her pristine state, neither corrupt in Her faith or morals, the entire Church may one day be able to fit comfortably into a telephone booth with room to spare.

    You have a wonderful way of making important points, Bear. Keep at it.

    1. True enough. It's a very complicated topic, and there are other areas to explore, such as the bishops and even the faithful. But the main problem we seem to have at the moment is Pope's Francis worship of the "God of Surprises" by, well, surprising us so often when he opens his mouth. (I think the god of surprises is Yob Mupath in the H.P. Lovecraft mythos, and does things like randomly change the laws of physics. Seriously, of all the characteristics to constantly emphasize, "surprise" is probably the least attractive. As it is so often with what Pope Francis says, one suspects the "God of Surprises" really means "I'm going to be pulling some crazy stunts here, and you would be going against God to object." It would be like the Bear invoking the "The Deity of Donations to St. Corbinian's Bear Ephemeris." Seriously, I'm completely disinterested here. It just happens to work out that way. "Surprisingly" enough.

      The Bear's mate's great-grandmother came from Ireland, and I think she got another dose from her great-grandfather's side. A great lady who came by her Catholicism honestly. I know I have at least two regular regular readers from Ireland, though the other isn't much of a commenter.

    2. You deserve a wider audience Bear. You're a real pleasure to read.

    3. As long as the Vatican is claiming global warming, the Bear is claiming the largest readership of any Catholic ephemeris. The bigger the lie, the easier it is for people to swallow it. -- Hitler.

  2. I think that it is even harder and more mysterious than that. In spite of what Pope Francis does and says, he is the head of the Bark of Peter and we must be united to him for our salvation. In spite of what he says and does, the teachings of faith and morals of the Church are somehow grounded in him. It seems like a stretch, and I acknowledge it is a mystery, but I think it is true. Stay on the Ark, united to the Pope, and we will be safe. Do not succumb to the temptation to leave it, for if we do we will be lost.

    1. We must be united to Christ for our salvation, Jim. Our Faith is grounded in Jesus Christ alone. I agree we must not abandon the Catholic Church and its 2000 year deposit of faith. We are united to the Pope when we and he are united to Christ.

      In my opinion, Francis' Bark is rather lupine.

    2. The Pope's the Pope. The ambit of my article was simply what you have to believe out of his vast corpus of statements, not to mention other documents that float from the bowels of the Curia with great fanfare. I agree that one must stay with the plain old Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps my article may give someone a perspective that will help them do that.

    3. Just as an aside, Bear, I am curious to know if your Diocese has the annual 'Red Mass'. It used to be a solemn and great affair in my day.

    4. Yes it does, at least my parish does.

    5. I know what you are saying Liam. Our Faith is ultimately grounded in Christ. But God uses instrumental causes in His works. And one of these is the "rock" the successor of Peter. Our Faith is grounded in Christ, through the successor of Peter. We are to be united to the Pope in believing with supernatural faith that He is the rock, loving him, and praying for him (I don't agree with those who despise him even if he is doing and saying things horribly wrong). Our unity with the pope is not contrary to charitably critiquing what he says and does, when it is wrong. This grounding is a supernatural reality, in that somehow God uses him to maintain the indefectibility of the Church despite the many heresies and harmful decisions he may be saying and doing (it is a supernatural effect that has its source in Christ but goes through the Pope to the Church). It is not something empirically discerned, but supernaturally discerned. The indefectibility of the Church remains, and somehow the Pope is an instrumental cause of this. I think the problem with not believing this is the tendency to go into schism where the truth, on an empirical level, is more correctly taught. But schism is ultimately an evil. Whatever form it takes, schism is a sin against charity as heresy is a sin against faith. We must stay on the boat.

    6. Your last three sentences are an important point. I think we each must decide whether we want to belong to an institution that is correct or the the Church. (I believe the Church is correct in what it actually teaches, but this is for the sake of argument.) There are institutions out there that are, for the most part, holding to correct teachings that have not been marred by Modernism. They promote the old liturgy. If it were simply a matter of picking the more correct Church, why, it would be easy.

      However, the other view, the view that has held from ancient times, is not that we follow who we judge to be the more correct teacher, but that we belong to the Church. It is like a family. We don't change families because another one is objectively better. So it is membership not a subjective belief in correctness that is what is important. In fact, however, the Church has always taught that it is indefectible, so those who would accuse her of having fallen into error find themselves arguing with the Church of the Good Old Days.

      This is why I have never said this current Pope is not the Pope. I am very wary of him, do not trust him, and believe much of what he says is either error, or nonsense, or both. But the Pope is "Papa," for better or worse. He does not have to take an orthodoxy test or sign the Oath against Modernism. He is what he is because he was elected.

      Nor should we make up our minds to ignore everything he says. We listen, then decide if it is error or not. The Pope can speak error and nonsense. To reject the Pope formally or in fact is to reject Peter.

      The Bear will continue to point out errors. He may even follow the Pope's command to "be obnoxious."

  3. The Pope is supposed to be the servant of the servants of God. Somehow Pope Francis didn't get the message. Rather he appears to be the servant of the evil one by representing his own teaching rather than the 2000 year old doctrine of the Catholic Church.

    1. Please move over Michael, and let me sit next to you. Your opinion on this is mine as well. I now totally ignore all of it, whatever he says, whatever comes out of the Vatican. I feel the same way about the USCCB, which has become, to my mind, un-American and barely Catholic. Sycophants, almost all.
      I also agree with Liam's great comment, we shall all be able to fit into a phone booth.
      Bear, thank you for your commentary. You write an excellent blog. Our primary comfort these days is the Latin Mass we have discovered near our home. That has consoled us greatly.

  4. The God of Surprises unfortunately I think has been appearing in Argentina for along time with the hidden now being manifest with his new messenger and message. If he pulls the trigger with shooting down the God of Truth, he will get my vote for a character in revelation. The timing with the world pushing the limits of God's patience and the entry of Francis in a surprising way, acting in very surprising ways to catholics, might not be a surprise if he challenges the One, Holy Catholic Church, lets hope he serves and does not want to be served. We hope for the best, I would love to be completely wrong but there still some parts to be played in the bible. Many mutterings are uncatholic, unclear, uncharitable, uninspiring, he does wear white and looks the part but seems to want another part, that is the biggest surprise.

  5. This is an excellent essay on indefectability and infallibility. Sharing on FB.

  6. Bear. On the good side of my family are progenitors from County Cork and so we ol' sods know how to deal with the captious claims of Our Pope and Our Cross; we treat them like the Angelic Doctor advised us to consider immoral laws - they are not laws at all, and they certainly are not laws binding us.

    So, when Franciscus calls the faithful names and derides us for clinging to our Creed and standing by our doctrinal guns we think; O, hell, man. What he is saying is directly opposed to Tradition and so what he says is his own opinion and is not binding on me.

    1. Well, after me progenitors were kicked out of County Limerick for being incorrigible (ABS is quite proud of this) they settled in Cork and moved about a bit but were mainly in the East and O'Connell street is named after me family the fam spelling also includes Conail, etc

      Where do you hail from, Liam?

    2. I am an ex-pat and retired to Ireland 17 years ago. I live in a wee (10 sq. mi.) townland of 40 souls not far from Bantry, Co. Cork, where the sheep vastly outnumber the residents.

    3. Bless you, sir. My daughter went to Ireland on her Honeymoon and she wants to move there

    4. It ain't Kansas. Take it from me, ABS.

  7. Perhaps one should rather suffer in purgatory by not receiving the indulgence than pray for this Popes prayer intentions.

  8. He's at it again: https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/pope-francis-raises-the-stakes-for-catholics-unwilling-to-accept-change , but thanks to this post and to something that happened to me, I am much easier in my mind.

    I went through the nave of the cathedral in L.A. after going to Adoration, and I was looking at the tapestries, with their images of the saints. I suddenly thought of all the martyrs, known and unknown, who have endured tremendous torment and death for the Faith, including several in my own family tree (from the Cristero Revolution in Mexico).


    I thought, "There is NO WAY that I'm going to let these modernist, liberal, money-grubbing jerks destroy the Faith that all these people fought and died for!!"

    I'm not going to leave. They are NOT going to drive me away. I've already notified our parish that we won't be renewing our pastoral associate membership (which includes our donation). I haven't told them why, but I will.

    I am going to make some kind of noise, how and what I don't know yet, but I'm going to do my part in taking back the Faith.

    Francis apparently doesn't want "rebels" like me ... boy is he right. He is so, so right.

    1. That was silly. Good piece at Unam Sanctam (I think). Don't see
      "not maintaining traditions" ever being considered carrying on Scripture and Tradition. Gets washed down the drain with 90% of what he says, sadly.

    2. The Pope's warning to believe in the God of Surprises or you'll somehow be like Saul.

    3. Oh! I wasn't sure if you meant my reaction was silly.


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