One gets tired of the interminable arguments about the nature and designation of the post-Conciliar popes, as well as of the constant refrain of many post-Conciliar Catholics to the effect that it matters not what kind of Catholic you are, as long as you recognize these popes as legitimate and proclaim your loyalty to them.  These arguments are of course meaningless outside of Catholic circles, but nevertheless serve to make us look foolish to those who are interested in the Church - and worse, they are confusing to potential converts.  What is worse, they serve to allow us to be diverted from the real issue that divides us. This issue is not the popes but that of authority.

A little understood aspect of Catholicism is that one must submit to authority.  In point of fact, all men submit themselves to some authority, usually that of their own feelings.(1)  But the Catholic knows that he must accept the "teaching authority of his Church," and when he finds or feels that he cannot accept some particular doctrine, he has the option of giving up his faith - for, if he denies even a single teaching of the faith, he places himself outside the Church.  In essence, in such circumstances he is accepting some other authority as his guide - either that of a critic who he has not the skill to answer, or more frequently his own - that is, he is making himself his own authority.

The proper attitude for a Catholic is not to "think for himself," but to "think correctly."  This is what the teaching authority of the Church helps him to do.  He may not understand some given point of doctrine - who in fact can state that he understands the Trinity or the Resurrection?(2)  Yet he knows that he must accept it, and if it is a problem for him, he must go to the Church Fathers and those in Holy Orders who are there to assist him.  Thus it is that Augustine prayed, "Let me believe that I might understand, and let me understand that I might believe."

True authority demands obedience and submission.  To refuse to obey legitimate authority is an act of rebellion which in its extreme form leads to anarchy.  This submission of our wills and intellects to the authoritative teaching of the Church can be seen in the light of obedience.  Our refusal to accept/submit/obey is an act of rebellion, the placing of "my will over His will."  Those who are offended by this concept will perhaps find it easier if we replace the phrase "teaching of the Church" with the "Truth."  It may be argued that no one refuses to accept the truth when it is shown to him.  But even on a practical level, there are many occasions when all of us find ways of avoiding facing the truth.  It must of course be remembered that obedience is a moral virtue, and Faith, Hope and Charity are theological virtues and hence of a higher order.  One must avoid giving one's obedience to error.

Instead of arguing about the nature or the orthodoxy of the post-Conciliar popes, let us rather consider just what authority we are going to submit our souls to.  It is after all, what we accept as true, and the guides provided to us that go along with this acceptance, that will save our souls.

Without Faith, St. Paul tells us, it is impossible to please God. Now Faith is not some vague kind of feeling.  According to St. Thomas Aquinas, Faith has an objective quality in so far as its "factual" aspect is presented to us as the teaching of the Church.  It also has a subjective aspect, which is our giving our assent and or submission to this teaching.  Now the Church is the body of Christ in the world, or in different words, it is Christ's presence in this world.  What the Church teaches then is, or should be, what Christ teaches, and hence, intrinsic to the Catholic faith is our submission to what the Church teaches.

It will be argued that there are many dishonest and or evil individuals in the Church, and indeed this is true for, just as Christ came for all men, the Church is a body established to embrace not only saints, but sinners.  However the Church as such is a perfect society and cannot sin.  Thus it is impossible for the true Church to teach error.  Deny this and you deny the Faith.

Now, Christ established his Church on the Rock of Peter.  Just as the Bishops carry on the role of the Apostles, the Pope carries on the role of Peter.  Thus it is that theologians and subsequent popes throughout the centuries in making or accepting decisions use the phrase "Peter has spoken."  Peter or the reigning pope, in his function as Pope, is "one hierarchical person with Our Lord.."  When Peter speaks, it is Christ who speaks, and to disobey the pope, as Gueranger says, is to disobey God himself. The doctrine that in order to save our souls we must be in obedience to the pope has been reiterated time and again by theologians, saints, and papal Encyclicals.(3)  It is absurd to petition the pope to change his mind and return to us the ancient traditional rites of the Church.  Imagine a group of - Pharisees petitioning Christ to withdraw some of his harsher sayings.

Now, should a given pope go to the kitchen in the Vatican and express admiration for some form of pasta, and even suggest that everyone should be able to eat a meal of such high quality he would not be doing more than giving vent to a private opinion and wish.  He would not be speaking with the authority of Christ nor in any way wishing to enforce this opinion on the faithful. Clearly, the pope must make it clear that he is functioning in his role of pope before his words can carry the authority of Christ.  He must be speaking from the Chair of Peter, or to use the technical phrase, ex cathedra.  Put differently, he must make it clear that he is using that authority which comes from Christ and which is vested in him.  When he does so, we are obliged to accept what he says is true and therefore to give him or his words our intellectual assent.  How do we know when the pope is functioning within his authority? His authority has three aspects, namely "to teach, to govern and to sanctify" - and hence he wears or wore a triple crown.  Whenever he uses this authority he is speaking from the Chair of Peter, that is, ex cathedra; he is also acting as Master, and hence the term Magisterium.  The Magisterium is not some dead collection of rules and principles - it is a living organ and the pope, guided by the Holy Spirit, is constantly clarifying and applying the teachings of Our Lord to specific situations as they arise in the course of history.  Thus in 1958, Pius XII taught that the "pill" could be used for medical reasons, but not as a means of birth control.  Similarly, some years previously he specified in no uncertain terms what was essential in the form and matter for Holy Orders.

It should be clear that there is only one Magisterium or teaching authority in the Church.  It however expresses itself in two forms.  It is called "Solemn" or "Extraordinary" when it derives from authentic definitions of a General council, or of the Pope himself- that is to say definitions of Ecumenical Councils. Included in this category are "symbols or professions of the faith," such as the Apostles' Creed, The Tridentine or Pianine Profession and the Oath against Modernism.  It is termed "Ordinary and Universal" when it manifests itself in those truths which are expressed through the daily continuous preaching of the Church and refers to the universal practices of the Church connected with faith and morals as manifested in the "unanimous consent of the Fathers, the decisions of the Roman Congregations concerning faith and morals, in the consensus of the faithful, in the universal custom or practice associated with dogma.  Included in this category are Papal Encyclicals.(4)  It is termed "Pontifical" if the source is the Pope, and "universal" if derived from the Bishops in union with him.  Magisterial truths - whether Solemn or Ordinary are considered de fide divina et Catholica (Of divine and Catholic faith).  In the more recent catechisms of the post-Conciliar church, while slightly different phraseology is used, it is clearly taught that "doctrines of the ordinary and authentic Magisterium are to be assented to with religious submission of the will and intellect," even when these teachings are, not proposed with a definitive act.  (Cf Kenneth Whitehead's article in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Dec.  1998.) This statement has been incorporated into the new code of Canon Law (1983).(5)  It should be clear that while we can argue about what is and what is not part of the ordinary magisterium, we cannot dispute the fact that the ordinary magisterium demands our intellectual assent. Nor can we presume to teach that the ordinary magisterium can contain error for the Church (i.e.  Christ) could never demand the submission of our will and intellect to error.  Let it also be noted that the documents of Vatican II have been declared to be the "supreme form of the ordinary magisterium" by three of the post-Conciliar "popes," and that the liturgical and sacramental changes introduced subsequent to this Council are promulgated with Magisterial authority.

I have titled this essay "Laisser faire Catholicism."  By this I mean that Catholics in almost every category claim to be "faithful," while taking or leaving certain aspects of the faith which they either dislike or think inappropriate.  For example, many individuals, basing themselves on some residual sensus Catholicus, dislike the novus ordo missae and cannot go along with everything in Vatican II.  They have come up with a variety of solutions such as declaring that only the Extraordinary Magisterium is infallible; that the pope only uses his ex cathedra authority when he pronounces something in the Extraordinary area; that the ordinary magisterium can contain error (Michael Davies), or again that one need only accept those parts of Vatican Il that repeat what has been taught before. (Society of Pius X - some have called this the theory of the "dead magisterium.")  Now, none of these opinions can be labeled as "Catholic," and despite denials, each of them involves attempts to limit the authority of the ordinary magisterium which is equivalent to accepting some "foreign" authority as higher than that of the Magisterium.  Are we to throw out the ordinary magisteriurn or reduce it to some kind of interesting philosophical rumination? Or are we to select which items in it are erroneous? When Archbishop Lefebvre proposed the idea that he would only accept what was traditional in the Documents of Vatican II, Paul VI quite correctly told him that he, the pope would determine that, and that if Lefebvre did so, he was usurping papal authority.  Indeed, these positions put us in the position of being Protestants; of picking and choosing what we will accept, and as used to be said in saner days, "every Protestant is a Pope unto himself."

It follows then, that if one accepts the authority of the post-Conciliar "popes," one must accept their Magisterial teachings and acts.  If one holds these men to be true popes, one must obey them and accept their teachings.  One must accept ALL the teachings of Vatican II and welcome the liturgical changes they have introduced as dutiful sons and daughters of the Church. We can of course discuss them.  We can seek to understand them better, but knowing our limited intellectual abilities, we cannot reject them.

But there is a problem! We know that the Church cannot teach anything that goes against reason.  And we know that many of the new teachings contradict previous magisterial teachings of the Church - teachings we were taught were absolutely true.  The Holy Ghost cannot lie and cannot contradict Himself, and it logically follows that either the Church taught error in the past, or is teaching error now.

Similarly, one meets with priests who know that the "Words of our Lord" in the new Mass are taken from the so-called mass of Luther, and are not the "Words of Consecration" traditionally (i.e. handed down) attributed to Christ.(6)  They know that the new formula is dubious and fails to effect the Sacrament, so they use the old words for fear of failing to consecrate.  Thus they can claim to be "in obedience," but in fact are disobeying the rubrics set forth on how this new mass is to be said.  Still others will work on tour ships where they are independent of the local hierarchy and yet claim to be "in obedience"; still others will join the Knights of Malta which they claim makes them dependent directly on the "pope," and will tell us that the pope has never forbidden the knights from saying the traditional Mass. Again, we have another example of Laisser faire Catholicism.(7)

Of course Rome is aware of the conflict that these issues have produced and has moved to ease our consciences.  It has provided us with an "Indult Mass" (often called the "Latin Mass," and mistakenly even the "Tridentine Mass.")  This Mass established by John XXIII to test the reaction of the Laity to ritual change (and which incidentally destroyed the traditional Breviary which is the spiritual nourishment of the priest), altered relatively few things and retained unquestionable validity.  Initially, to take advantage of this, one had to go to the chancery office and sign a statement accepting both the new mass and the teachings of Vatican II.  This was equivalent to stating that one had no doctrinal objections to the new mass or Vatican II, and simply preferred the older forms of worship on aesthetic grounds.  While this is no longer required, it is implicit in the Indult, and current Rome has made it clear that the Indult Mass is a temporary measure aimed at keeping the disaffected within the new church - that it will eventually be phased out completely. Beyond this, the Indult Mass is not easy to find - it is forbidden in some dioceses, allowed only once or twice a month in others, and usually in remote churches at awkward hours.  Priests who provide this service to the laity do so on tables (not altars) and often use hosts "consecrated" at previously said novus ordo masses.  And finally, unless the officiating priest was consecrated prior to 1968, one can have no certainty that he has the power to consecrate anything.(8)

A Catholic cannot embrace an opinion in religious matters that goes against reason.  While some things are above reason, such as the Trinity, they are not contra to reason.  If a conservative novus ordo Catholic rejects some of the teachings of Vatican II, and/or if he refuses to attend the novus ordo missae, he must acknowledge the fact that he is denying the authority of the post-Conciliar "popes."  He may have good grounds for doing this, for no one has the right to change our faith - not even as St. Paul tells us, an angel from heaven.  But he cannot do this while proclaiming that he is a loyal follower of these "popes."  If these individuals are true popes, let us stop playing games and understand that they have authority; Christ's authority.  Let us then accept their teachings and their governance and stop trying to be "traditional."  If I accepted their authority, I would never attend a Tridentine Mass or argue against any of the propositions in Vatican II that I don't approve of.  Once Rome has spoken, the matter is settled.

This is not just a problem for the conservative Novus Ordo Catholic.  One meets with numerous Traditional Catholics who insist on the Tridentine Mass, but refuse to accept the Church's teaching with regard to Baptism of Desire - one such individual recently assuring me that St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine and several other doctors of the Church were in error with regard to this subject.  Another traditional priest informs me that the women in his congregation refuse to cover their heads during Mass because it is old fashioned.  More recently a clerical colleague of mine was asked to say Mass in a remote area, but was told by the lay committee that he could not discuss certain doctrinal issues in his sermon.  Traditional priests are plagued with lay theologians and canonists who think they know better how to run the Church and just what is acceptable and what is not.  One could provide a long list of similar examples, but the point is clear.  These individuals are also taking only those parts of the Church's teaching which they find acceptable - the rest they are happy to leave behind.

We see in this situation, not a debate about how to delineate the post-Conciliar "popes" but a crisis in the concept of authority. A religion based on revelation can never be a democratic organization.  Just as within the soul, one must have a hierarchy of values.  One cannot allow feelings or prejudices to have the same value as Truth.  So also in religion, Truth must be the supreme criteria.  One of the first official attacks against this principle was Vatican II's teaching on Collegiality.  But the concept goes deeper.  We live in an atmosphere where our thinking has been strongly influenced by the dominant liberal ideation which can be summarized as "what's true for you is true for you, but may well not be true for me."  Bringing this into the field of religion, many Catholics of both the conservative novus ordo variety as well as those who proclaim themselves to be traditional have decided that they (or sometimes Father X) will decide just what is traditional and acceptable to them.  This tendency to decide for oneself just what is and isn't acceptable I have labeled Laisser faire Catholicism.  This has become so prevalent among certain traditional groups that the laity have no compunction about telling priests what they may or may not say in their sermons, and the Good Lord help those priests who do not say the Mass the way some group thinks it should be said.  A Dominican priest I know has at times been criticized because people are unaware that the Dominican rite is slightly different from the Roman.

What then of traditional priests or laity who deny the authority of the current "popes," on the grounds that they would have to apostatize from the faith if they accepted their teachings? They must also base their decisions on authority, and indeed follow some authority apart from personal opinion in what they teach and do.  If the post-Conciliar "popes" have defected from the Faith (which is the only grounds which would allow us to disobey them) then the Faith remains intact.  And we must give that Faith our submission and obedience.  Now that faith is incorporated in the living Magisterium of the Church.  Most traditional priests will adhere to the Magisterium up to the time of the death of Pius XII, and considering the See of Peter to be without authority after his death, refuse to accept either Vatican II or the liturgical and sacramental changes that followed.  It is true that they lack formal jurisdiction, but they see that the jurisdiction available to them through normal channels from the post-Conciliar church gives them permission to say the mass of Luther - a mass that is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, but no longer a sacrifice of propitiation and immolation.  Now, if they lack formal jurisdiction because of the present emergency situation, the Church provides them with jurisdiction under the principle of Epikeia as expounded in Canon 188 of the 1917 Code. At the same time, they abide by the 1917 Code in everything that is possible.  (God may ask us to be reasonable, but being reasonable Himself, does not ask of us the impossible.) When a traditional bishop is available, they align themselves with him and seek his advise when canonical decisions have to be made. Certainly such is not ideal, but they consider themselves much like priests functioning in Communist Russia during an earlier period.  Their task was to provide teaching and sacraments to the faithful and often they went for years without contact with higher authorities.  Fortunately, most problems have occurred over the centuries and indeed the decisions of the Church as incorporated in the Magisterium are more than sufficient to carry us both now and in the future.

Unfortunately, traditional priests suffer from what seems to be an interminable about of bickering over minor issues.  They agree on 99% of issues, but spend enormous amounts of energy fighting about the small residua.  These problems are resolvable with good will and one can only hope that their recognition of the common authority that directs their lives will enable them to do this.

It can properly be asked if Ecclesiastical history provides us with a parallel situation.  Perhaps the closest example is the case of Pope Paschal II who reigned between 1099 and 1118.  It was a period when the battles between the Church and State were fiercely raging - the issue in question was that of "investiture" - in essence, who should appoint the members of the hierarchy (bishops): the Church or the Emperor? It was a particularly touchy matter as the bishops of the Church in that era controlled large tracts of land which were obliged to provide the state with soldiers and support in the event of war.  The issue had been settled in an Ecumenical council during the reign of his predecessor Gregory VII, and this after great struggles.  The Church was to retain control of their appointment, but the traditional feudal obligations of land owners towards the temporal,authority was to be preserved.

Despite this the issue was of such great importance that Henry V, Emperor of Germany, actually invaded Italy and made the pope a prisoner.  For two months Paschal II was subjected to the most fearful threats and cruel treatment.  Finally, under pressure from his own fellow-captive bishops, he signed a treaty with the king allowing him to invest by "ring and crozier" - spiritual symbols - (both lay and cleric) and further signed away to the emperor the right of deciding between rival claimants in contested elections and the privilege of rejecting papal appointments.  He also surrendered to the king monastic lands and possessions.  This treaty in essence gave the king complete control of the Church's hierarchy in over half the territory of Europe.  Further, the Pope swore not to avenge himself on the Emperor for his actions and never to revoke the treaty if he was released.

When he was released the Pope felt bound by his oath and hesitated to repudiate this treaty.  Godfrey, the zealous Abbot of Nendome, contrasted his actions with the heroic resolution of the martyrs of old, and particularly with the examples of SS. Peter and Paul.  He wrote to the Pope that "if the successor of the Apostles has disregarded their example, he should hasten, if he would not forfeit their glorious crown, to undo and repair what he had done, and like a second Peter, expiate his fault with tears of repentance."  Lay investiture, he added, whereby power was granted to laymen to convey possessions, and therewith jurisdiction in spiritual matters, was equivalent to the denial of the faith, destructive of the liberty of the Church, and out-and-out heresy.  The Abbot of Monte Cassino, when ordered to surrender the monastic lands, refused.  "I love you," he wrote to the Pope, "as my lord and as my father, and I have no desire for another as pope.  But the Lord has said, 'whosoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me...' As for this outrageous treaty, wrung from you by violence and treachery, how can I praise it? Or indeed, how can you ... ? Your own laws have condemned and excommunicated the cleric who submits to lay investiture..."  Another prelate, the Archbishop of Lyons, urged the pope in still stronger terms: "Detestable pilot that you are, in times of peace a bully, and before the storm a coward ...".  The Archbishop of Vienne, Paschal's own legate in France, called a Council and declared lay investiture to be heretical, and proceeded to excommunicate Henry V.  At this Council, three subsequently canonized saints - Ss. Bruno, St. Hugh of Grenoble and St. Godfrey of Amiens, as well as a future Pope, Calixtus II - all stated that unless he revoked his agreement with the Emperor, "we should be obliged to withdraw our allegiance from you."  The Pope admitted he was wrong and rectified his error. At still another Council he said "I confess that I failed and ask you to pray to God to pardon me."

Another example is that of Robert Grosseteste.  He was a doctor of Theology at Oxford when it was a center of Catholic learning. Now he was one of the staunchest defenders of the papacy, comparing the Pontiff to the Sun which illuminates the visible world.  After he reluctantly accepted the bishopric of Lincoln, he was asked by the Pope to appoint an absentee priest (the Pope's new nephew) to one of the prebends of the diocese, a situation in which the priest received the income from a parish while he lived in Rome.  Here is his response:

"It is not possible that the most holy Apostolic See to which has been handed down by the Holy of Holies, the Lord Jesus Christ, all manner of power, according to the Apostle, for edification and not for destruction, or command or in any way attempt anything verging upon this kind of sin, which is so hateful to Jesus Christ, detestable, abominable and pernicious to the human race.  For this would be evidently a falling off and corruption and abuse of its most holy and plenary power...  No faithful subject of the Holy See, no man who is not cut away by schism from the Body of Christ and the same Holy See, can submit to mandates, precepts, or any other demonstrations of this kind, no, not even if the author were the most high body of angels.  He must needs repudiate them and rebel against them with all his strength.  BECAUSE OF THE OBEDIENCE BY WHICH I AM BOUND TO THE HOLY SEE, AS TO MY PARENTS, AND OUT OF MY LOVE OF MY UNION WITH THE HOLY SEE IN THE BODY OF CHRIST AS AN OBEDIENT SON, I DISOBEY, I CONTRADICT, I REBEL.  You cannot take action against me, for my every word and act is not rebellion, but the filial honor due to God's command to father and mother.  As I have said, the Apostolic See in its holiness cannot destroy, it can only build. This is what the plenitude of power means; it can do all things to edification.  But these so-called provisions do not build up, they destroy..."

The pope was at first quite angry, but after consultation with others recognized that Grosseteste was correct and withdrew his demand.  Grosseteste's process for canonization wasincidentally interrupted by the Reformation conflicts.

What conclusions shonld be drawn from all this? I would suggest that we must return to a hierarchical concept of religion.  If we believe the post-Conciliar "popes" are true popes, truly Christ's representative, functioning to bring the Church into the next millennium, let us obey them and follow ALL their teachings and obey ALL their commands.  Let us stop playing games about what is acceptable and what is not.  If on the other hand, we realize that to do this would force us to apostatize from the Faith, then let us withdraw our obedience from them and seek that residual authority - still a full authority - that comes from following Christ.  There was a time when you could go to any priest with a question and get the same answer because the Church was a monolithic structure.  Such no longer is the case and indeed, one can hardly find two priests who will give the same answer to any given question.  Hence it is that we must make the effort to know just what the teaching of the Church is on many subjects.  This requires work, but is highly rewarding - and indeed, if our religion is worth anything, it is certainly worth the effort we put into studying such things as the stock market.  Otherwise, we will fall into the trap of picking and choosing what we feel we should believe and our children will fall away from the Faith. This has a further implication.  There was a time when one could speak of falling away from the Faith.  Now our children are falling away from a variety of Faiths precisely because we have been put in the position of teaching them a variety of faiths. Instead of arguing about how to characterize the "popes," (which in fact admits their defective nature), let us constantly ask ourselves "by what authority."  By what authority are we to live our lives and save our souls?


(1)  Even the atheist who cannot rationally defend his position, is submitting his intellect to his private opinions.  The agnostic is declaring that he doesn't know, and doesn't care to know.  It is an error to think that those who reject religion do not have a belief system - indeed, they believe in a host of things that differ from that of a Catholic.
(2)  I do not mean to suggest that a Catholic may not have difficulties about some of the Church's teaching.  But his attitude must be one that seeks to understand and recognizes his own limited intellectual abilities.  Having difficulty is never a reason to reject that submission which an act of Faith requires.
(3)  I am intentionally avoiding quotations - I have given these elsewhere, and the reader is invited to read any pre-Vatican II catechism to confirm these statements.
(4)  The argument that Encyclicals are not magisterial is absurd.  Why would JPII write his lengthy and convoluted encyclicals, if he didn't mean for them to be used as guides by the faithful; to teach them how to believe and act?
(5)  While theologians may make distinctions about the degree of certainty of certain truths, in the practical realm if the Church teaches something as being true, it is simply true.  The teachings of the Supreme Magisterium are no more or less true than those of the Ordinary Magisterium.  Truth is a little like pregnancy.  You can't have a touch of pregnancy; nor can the Church ask us to believe in a partial truth.
(6)  In the rubrics of the new mass there are no specified "Words of Consecration."  The words replacing the traditional formula given us in specie (precisely) by Tradition have been replaced and are now referred to as the "Words of Our Lord." Paul VI stated that "he wished" these to be His words.  They are of course taken from Scripture.
(7)  I am of course fully aware of the torture these changes have caused older priests, and that being totally dependent upon the present hierarchy for food and shelter, for them to do more than this is asking of them heroic virtue.  Lacking heroic virtue myself, it would be inappropriate for this to be taken as a criticism.  I would however add that I have never known a traditional priest who took a stand on these issues to starve to death.
(8)  The ordaining of priests, and the consecrating of bishops were significantly changed in 1968.  It is a Catholic teaching that a dubious sacrament is not a valid sacrament.  Holy Orders and especially the consecration of bishops since that time is to say the least, dubious.  See my The Problems with the Other Sacraments, TAN, in press.