Apparently, Cardinal Burke has just delivered a speech in Rome about the limits of papal authority. Dissenters from Amoris Laetitia have been looking forward for this conference to get arguments to justify their disobedience… and unfortunately, they got what they wanted, if what is being reported is accurate.

In his speech on Saturday, Cardinal Burke went on to explained how abuses of the fullness of power could be corrected. Hostiensis made it clear the Pope should be “warned of the error of his actions, even publicly” and that the College of Cardinals “should act as a de facto check against papal error.” But Hostiensis did not offer a “binding remedy,” the cardinal added. Instead, he argued that if, according to a well formed conscience, a member of the faithful believes a papal act of exercising the fullness of power is “sinful” then “the Pope must be disobeyed out of duty and the consequences of that disobedience suffered with Christian patience.”

Apparently, all it takes to justify dissent is to have a well formed conscience. If you have a well formed conscience and you disagree with the Pope, you are free to disobey. Who gets to decide who has a well formed conscience is something that is not addressed, because apparently the limits of papal power are more important than the limits of people who self ascribe to themselves the title of “well formed consciences“.

A well formed conscience from a divorced and remarried person cannot, therefore, discern on the internal forum if his/her soul is likely not in a state of mortal sin on account of mitigating factors which reduce subjective culpability (something only he/she can know, besides God)… but that same well formed conscience can decide if a teaching of the Pope can be disobeyed, if it seems to conflict with a personal interpretation of what Christ wants (a course of action progressives call “What would Jesus do?” when they want to justify their dissent).

Apparently, anti-Francis critics believe the former behavior from a well formed conscience is more threatening to the unity and sanctity of the Church than the latter.

All this theological backflip has been grounded, not in any authoritative Church document (besides some snippets from the Holy Bible, interpreted out of context to attack the Pope, a modus operandi resembling evangelical protestants) but on the non-authoritative writings of medieval canonists and an english professor.

Fortunately, to debunk this, all it takes for me is to republish an article I have already shared, named Sola Traditio. So, I’m transcribing it in full once again:

«No prophecy of scripture is made by private interpretation. For prophecy came not by the will of man at any time: but the holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy Ghost.»

— 2 Pet 1:20-21 (DRV)

When I was rediscovering my faith, around the beginning of Pope Benedict’s pontificate, I relied heavily on the Catholic Answers Forums to learn more. At that time, I noticed that many of the discussions there were focused on debunking protestant theology. This was strange for me, since Portugal is traditionally very Catholic-oriented. Protestants were not a reality I had come across very often.

But still, those threads helped me deepen my understanding of Scripture, and how it should be interpreted. Namely, I learned that Scripture derives its authority from the Church (which wrote it and compiled it), not the other way around.

Sola Scriptura (so I was told) was inherently contradictory, in that there is no passage in Scripture where this doctrine is explicitly mentioned. Sure, there are Bible passages that say that all Scripture is profitable for teaching, but nowhere does it say that Scripture *alone* is acceptable.

Scripture was insufficient, in that people could come to radically different interpretations of it, even when reading the same passages. So, contrary to what protestants affirmed, Scripture was not perspicuous. If two Christians had a disagreement over which one of two opposing interpretations was correct, they should take it up to someone with authority to interpret… and that was the Church.

How wonderful it was to have a Church that was a *living* body, a thriving organism, enfleshed in real human beings! A Church that would always be present when we needed Her to guide us in the midst of a turmoil of conflicting interpretations and into the Truth! Or so the apologists acclaimed back then…

Of course that would mean I had to trust the Church even when it seemed pretty clear that Scripture contradicted Her teachings. It was extremely clear for me that the Bible had nothing but condemnation for graven images, so it seemed that protestants were right in shunning the statues of the saints that populate our places of worship. It was extremely clear from Scripture that Jesus treated His Mother with noticeable indifference, when not open contempt. It was extremely clear that Jesus and Paul contradicted the Law of the Old Testament, even when they claimed they didn’t. It was extremely clear that the marcionists had a point in that the God of the Old Testament didn’t seem to be the same as the God of the New.

However, as Catholic apologists showed me, those apparent contradictions were just… well, apparent. A touch of historical context and sound theology would clearly show that Scripture was not intended to be interpreted in those ways that seemed to be obvious to a modern reader. Taking on the “graven image” example, a more deep study of Scripture would show the divine command, hidden in the Book of Exodus, to carve statues of cherubim and to put them above the Ark of the Covenant. That was a small detail, which could easily be overlooked, but it made a whole lot of difference.

Scripture was insufficient and not perspicuous. Scripture was one of the pillars on which the Church relied to ascertain Truth… but not the *only* pillar. There were two more pillars: Tradition and Magisterium. Scripture and Tradition formed the deposit of the Word of God, but the task of authentically interpreting the Word of God had been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church.

The protestant’s error was to rely solely in one of those pillars while rejecting the other two, sometimes even making that lonely pillar go into war with the others. Oh, and with what skill they did it! I saw protestants engaging in those Catholic Answers threads, quoting the Bible like they had it memorized, throwing around biblical snippets that seemed to support their points…

But I had already learned my lesson! Those quotes were taken out of context. If we read the verses immediately preceding them or the ones immediately bellow, we would see those points were flawed. Also, the Bible could not be prooftexted into a series of isolated sentences and paragraphs: the Bible needed to be read as a whole. Lastly, these quotes were taken out of context, because they were taken out of the Church that produced them and from which they derived their authority.

Those were the lessons I learned in those years. And I think it is urgent to recall them today. Because I believe that those lessons need to be re-learned by some Catholic sectors these days… albeit with a twist.

Many of the Catholics that passionately defended the Church against Sola Scriptura have fallen prey of a similar, yet different, error. I shall name it Sola Traditio.

As generally happens with many errors, this one has a comprehensible origin. Since Scripture was being improperly used to attack Tradition, Catholics learned to defend Tradition as an antidote against Sola Scriptura. This meant that Catholics would value Tradition and place it in high regard. That was understandable and laudable.

Unfortunately, as generally happens with many errors, it doesn’t matter where its origin came from. Soon, it spun out of control. Just like Scripture before it, Tradition started to be overvalued and, ultimately, idolized. Eventually, Tradition would be used to attack the other pillars of Truth. This came to be in the pontificate of Pope Francis (although it seems to me that it was in a latent, subclinical state, long before).

It is, therefore, kind of logical that the people who tend to subscribe to Sola Traditio are the ones that have more passionately fought against the errors of protestantism. We can see they are the ones most likely to criticize Pope Francis for his ecumenical approach to protestants, or to accuse the hierarchy of having become protestantized. But, logical as it may be, it is above all tragic, because these antiprotestant folk cannot seem to grasp how their error mirrors Sola Scriptura so well. Let me try to enumerate the more flagrant parallels:

Both claim that they are achieving a purer Christianity, closer to the original, before the popes introduced unscriptural/untraditional innovations.

Both think that their idol is perspicuous, confusing their personal interpretation of Scripture/Tradition with the only correct one.

By doing so, both pit their idol against the pope. They do not afford the pope the same legitimacy in interpreting Scripture/Tradition they self-anointed upon themselves. It is the pope’s interpretation, not theirs, that must be wrong.

Both postulate that the Church derives its authority from Scripture/Tradition and not the other way around. So the pope’s teachings must be constricted to their take on Scripture/Tradition.

Both are very proficient in quoting and prooftexting authoritative documents to support their position.

Sola traditionalists borrowed a lot of arguments from protestants, namely the oversimplification of the historical episodes of the alleged “heretical” popes Honorius, Liberius and John XXII. Or Paul’s correction of Peter. Yup, protestants mentioned those first.

Also “papolatry” was coined by protestants as a pejorative term to designate those who sided with the pope against them.

Finally, both seem to subscribe to a “Great Apostasy of the Church” narrative. They just disagree with the timing at which the apostasy took place. Even so, they agree that they, and only they, are the remaining faithful left.

But there is an instance where the similarity between Sola Traditio and Sola Scriptura is more striking and important: Both seem to think that Scripture/Tradition is something fixed. Something “dead”. The texts say what they say and they teach nothing beyond what they plainly say. The Holy Spirit can surely talk through their preferred means… but the texts themselves are unyielding.

Which begs the question… when they postulate that the Holy Spirit talks to them through those predetermined sets of texts, is it really the Holy Spirit talking? Or is it just an illusion, cast by themselves interpreting the text without being contradicted by a voice of another real human being?

They do not understand that both Scripture and Tradition only have meaning if they are “alive”. In other words, they cannot be mere books on a shelf that a person can consult whenever needed. Rather, they are incarnated in a Church of living, breathing, talking men, who have the authority to interpret both Scripture and Tradition according to the circumstances which are presented to them. Only in this way can Scripture and Tradition be truly “alive” in us. That’s why we need a Church.

So let us suppose you claim that Pope Francis is overturning Church doctrine on matters where Tradition and previous magisterial teachings have weighed in on the past. You have, for example, a quote from a previous pope that Pope Francis *clearly* contradicts.

Well then, I will reply to you that it is not clear to me that Pope Francis is contradicting previous Church doctrine, just mere discipline. At least, it doesn’t seem more glaringly contradictory than the current Catholic praxis regarding statues and the scriptural prohibitions against graven images. For these contradictions seemed obvious too.

It seems we’re at an impasse. You have an interpretation of Tradition and I have another. Both are mutually exclusive: either Pope Francis is overturning Church teaching or not. So, what do we do? We take it up to the Church, of course, which has the authority to interpret correctly the Word of God. We then go talk to a priest. But which priest? There are priests that agree with either interpretation! So, we take it up to the bishops. But again, which bishop? Well, then, all that it remains is to take it up to the… pope.

How wonderful it is to have a Church that is a *living* body, a thriving organism, enfleshed in real human beings! A Church that is always present when we need Her to guide us in the midst of a turmoil of conflicting interpretations and into the Truth! This praise is as actual now as it has ever been.

I then urge my fellow Catholics to re-learn these lessons that they have taught me so many years ago. It is not sufficient to rally against the protestants’ errors, if you do not remain vigilant to not fall in the same traps, even if the bait is different.

Trying to uphold Tradition while fostering dissent from the pope is just as untenable a position as trying to defend Scripture while fostering defiance to the scriptural authority of the petrine and apostolic faith. It is a paradoxical endeavor. No good will come out of it. Because one of the more traditional tenets of our Catholic faith is precisely the obedience due to our pope.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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Pedro Gabriel, MD, is a Catholic layman and physician, born and residing in Portugal. He is a medical oncologist, currently employed in a Portuguese public hospital. A published writer of Catholic novels with a Tolkienite flavor, he is also a parish reader and a former catechist. He seeks to better understand the relationship of God and Man by putting the lens on the frailty of the human condition, be it physical and spiritual. He also wishes to provide a fresh perspective of current Church and World affairs from the point of view of a small western European country, highly secularized but also highly Catholic by tradition.

Sola Traditio (again)

25 Responses

  1. Marthe Lépine says:

    Many years ago, I remember hearing similar arguments concerning “well formed conscience”. The discussion then was about following, or not, the teaching of Humana Vitae about artificial contraception. It was explained that a couple with well formed consciences could decide if their consciences allowed artificial contraception. There is nothing new under the sun…

  2. Hans Georg Lundahl says:

    A wellformed conscience is not one which considers divorced and remarried as not mortally sinful – nota bene, if the first marriage was valid and sacramental.

    Wellformed consciences do exist.

    They are a check and balance on Popes with illformed one.

    Check out how Pope John XXII corrected himself in response to one or to some.

    • Pedro Gabriel says:

      Well formed consciences do exist.

      Those are the consciences who know that there is no sin which is intrinsically mortal, but know that mortal sin has 2 other conditions besides grave matter (full consent and full knowledge)

      Well formed consciences are also the ones who do not assume a Pope has an illformed conscience when they don’t agree with one of his teachings, by self ascribing to themselves the title of “check and balance on Pope”.

      You may also have missed this from the article:

      “Sola traditionalists borrowed a lot of arguments from protestants, namely the oversimplification of the historical episodes of the alleged “heretical” popes Honorius, Liberius and John XXII. Or Paul’s correction of Peter. Yup, protestants mentioned those first.”

      • Hans Georg Lundahl says:

        Actually, St Thomas Aquinas mentions St Paul correcting Cephas, as if it were certainly St Peter.

        He was not a Protestant. Nor were the authors of Liber Paparum.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        St. Paul didn’t correct Peter on account of his teachings, but precisely because Peter contradicted the teachings he himself proclaimed.

        So no, no protestant. Protestants were the first, though, to use this episode to rail against papal authority and papal teaching.

      • Hans Georg Lundahl says:

        “St. Paul didn’t correct Peter on account of his teachings,”

        In view of what Dimond brothers and others have dug up, he may have been correcting some other Cephas.

        Actually, Honorius, Liberius and John XXII were not in a context of infallibility.

        After that, we can of course wonder if Bergoglio is Pope (I don’t think so, for one).

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        Glad we agree on those historical episodes.

        As for sedevacantist claims, they are beyond the scope of this article, so I will not address them to try to stay on topic

  3. Hans Georg Lundahl says:

    “Of course that would mean I had to trust the Church even when it seemed pretty clear that Scripture contradicted Her teachings. It was extremely clear for me that the Bible had nothing but condemnation for graven images, so it seemed that protestants were right in shunning the statues of the saints that populate our places of worship. It was extremely clear from Scripture that Jesus treated His Mother with noticeable indifference, when not open contempt. It was extremely clear that Jesus and Paul contradicted the Law of the Old Testament, even when they claimed they didn’t. It was extremely clear that the marcionists had a point in that the God of the Old Testament didn’t seem to be the same as the God of the New. However, as Catholic apologists showed me, those apparent contradictions were just… well, apparent. ”

    Try to show the same for Amoris Laetitia …

  4. Bren says:

    If this is the case then the pope should just come out openly and answer the cardinals’ dubia and say that yes, the Church used to restrict adulterers from receiving communion, but now, adulterers can receive communion. And I suppose if adulterers can receive so can, say, thieves or pornographers or so forth. If he produced a clear teaching on it instead of obscure footnotes, then it would be transparently obvious if there was disobedience happening.

    • Pedro Gabriel says:

      Every sinner (not just adulterers) must have a conscience exam to see if he is in mortal sin or not before taking Communion. And grave matter is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for being in mortal sin.

      This is solid orthodox teaching. And the Pope has made clear, both in the Vatican site and in the Acta Apostolicae Sedes that this is the correct interpretation of Amoris Laetitia.

      As has been shown on my article “Violence against the intellect” it is now incumbent on you to accept this clarification or not. But you cannot claim the clarification has not been made.

      On the other hand, it is not your prerogative to check if the Pope is in disobedience or not, but rather whether *you’re* in disobedience or not.

  5. Arthur McGowan says:

    The discipline of Denial of Communion has never, NEVER been predicated on ANYONE’s knowing whether the would-be communicant is in the state of grace or not. It has always been based on the publicly-known behavior of the would-be communicant.

    In other words, when Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop Cupich, the Pope, etc., say that the subjective state of the would-be communicant’s soul is a factor–they are all lying.

    • Pedro Gabriel says:

      You are correct in saying that *previous* discipline wasn’t predicated in whether someone was on a state of grace or not. But the *current* discipline does.

      And since discipline can change (while doctrine cannot), then it doesn’t matter whether the previous one was predicated in it or not.

      Nor is it clear how Pope Francis is lying when he states the discipline is predicated on the state of the Soul of the would-be communicat, since it is the Pope’s prerogative to change discipline.

      He approved the current discipline, which abrogated the previous one, and which is predicated on the subjective state of the communicant’s soul. No lying there.

      • Marthe Lépine says:

        May I suggest the following very recent post in the blog called “A Little Bit of Nothing”, that I found to be a good explanation of changing discipline:
        Pope Francis Tells Us Christ’s Answer
        APRIL 10, 2018 BY HENRY KARLSON

      • Jeanne Lepine says:

        Here is a problem with this “mercy” with communing based on the state of ones soul. Before, it could be thought, they do not go up for communion because of an objective situation, but who knows the subjective state of the soul. Now, we can suspect, if they do not go up, it is because they have discerned with father they really are in mortal sin. The pastoral practice of giving to communion to people in objective sin but subjectively not, is old as the dirt. However it was a private accommodation. Communion at a mass was public and had the mercy of being on objective things with no judgment on the soul considered. Which is why you can tell the Mafioso they cannot be allowed or even refuse a public funeral for them when they die, while not saying anything about their fate. Now it is to receive communion is to reveal the true state of your soul to everyone. The most private thing in the world, naked. Is it not a disgusting thing?

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        If my understanding of Amoris Laetitia #299 is correct, communion for people in irregular situations should be given without causing scandal… and that means in private, in the context of the internal forum.

      • Jeanne Lepine says:

        If this is what is intended, then why is the practice of say, Argentina, that there is a “discernment” retreat for divorce and remarried, and then at the end, when they have discerned they are not in subjective mortal sin, they have a big Mass celebrating their reunion so to speak with the Church? Have you read the interpretation of AL in Malta? It is very different from the one in Philadelphia. Which one of them is one that is correct?

        This article posts a thing which I am agreeing with:

        ” ‘It can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.’

        […] to my knowledge, the Catholic Church has never said, neither in her theology nor official pastoral practice, “simply” that all those in second unions are living in a state of mortal sin and deprived of sanctifying grace.”

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        The correct interpretation, as the Pope has made clear, is the interpretation from the Buenos Aires bishops. I am unaware that that interpretation demands a retreat, even if that is common practice there. If I’m wrong, please point me to the document’s quote that pertains to it.

        On the other hand, every person who is in mortal sin should refrain from receiving communion (not just the divorced and remarried) and I never heard any criticism of that practice on account of allowing people to judge other people’s soul.

        As for that retreat, I have nothing against it, since people there are all in the same situation and they are certainly catechized and urged to not judge their brothers or sisters.

        Finally I’m glad that you agree that divorced and remarried are not necessarily in mortal sin. Many of the Pope’s critics, even commenting on this blog, surely disagree with you and base their objections to Amoris Laetitia on the charge of the divorced and remarried being intrinsically in mortal sin, making communion sacrilegious.

      • jong ricafort says:

        The AL is predicated in CCC 675 & CCC677 and in Akita Prophecy…
        If you were Pope Francis and you are guided by the visions of St.Pope Paul VI and St.John Paul II regarding the Final Confrontation of the Church with the counterfeit church.
        How would you prepare the Vatican II Clergy for an attack of the church enemies?
        As Pope Francis recently implore the appropriate definition of the Our Father prayer “DO NOT ALLOW US TO FALL UNDER A MILITARY ATTACK”…
        Amoris Laetetia is just the surface of the bigger picture that Church Purification must suffer…I think Pope Francis knew it better to have a few Obedient Army that a lot of Disobedient Clergy on His camp…AL is dividing Light from Darkness…
        As Ted Flynn said in his article DUBIA belong to satan and Faith belong to Christ (there are only TWO FORCES in this world).
        Pope Francis is battling the enemy upfront while Pope Benedict XVI is a Warrior Intercessor for Him…
        We are blessed to have a TWO Warrior POPES in these end times.

        Sis.Ann Shields talk give light on the coming Church Purification which was prophesied during St.John Paul Charismatic Pentecostal Gathering at Vatican in 1975…
        The Call to Conversion is prophesied there..
        And Pope Francis is now echoing the call of the Holy Spirit to all the Clergy to Conversion..
        In times of War you don’t communicate in public, but all Clergy must be DOCILE now more than ever to the Voice of the Holy Spirit…
        Either you live attuned to the Holy Spirit Breathe and Inspiration or you remain stagnant…

        I believe in the signs of times…and the Holy Spirit prophecy in Book of Daniel is happening now in the Digital Age….almost everyone can prophecy and a lot are interpreting prophecy…the rise of the false prophets are within our midst…alongside the Age of Confusions/Darkness.

        The Luminous Mystery is our Weapon and we have a Luminous Pope to guide us into Victory.
        STAY IN THE ARK.
        Time to embrace and heed the call of Pope Francis to Conversion and be docile to the Voice of the Holy Spirit.

        Godbless!. S&IHMMP4us.Amen

  6. Jeanne Lepine says:

    No, I am not saying what I want with clearly. This is not my language I am sorry.

    I mean in Argentina the whole practice is in public. The discernment, the reception of communion. It is all in the public with a parish party. (I wonder if anyone goes in the retreat and discerns they are in mortal sin, what can they do except reveal this to everyone, or else commit sacrilege and with full knowledge which perhaps they not having before.) The remarried participate in public in everything.

    In Malta it is said they are welcome to participate in the public and are even to be godparents. In Philadelphia it is said it should be private and no ministry held by them to avoid scandal. This is a difference in discipline Yes? It seems the Pope likes the discipline in Argentina, which is a big change from the way it was before (going to public participating from private accomodation.)

    So it seems, since it is the Popes desire to do the Argentina way, that your understanding of #299 Is incorrect?

    If this discipline has not changed (it is meant to be private as you say) then what has AL change? Because never before was it said anyone doing an objective mortal sin must be in subjective sin. So that is not the change. Giving communion to remarried, that is no change. Some item has changed: the one where receiving communion is a public revelation of the subjective state of the soul. If I am wrong help me to see it.

  7. Jane says:

    THANK YOU for this article! I have long felt this way deep inside me. I have long said, “If we can’t listen to the Pope, who are we going to listen to, ME!! ! ? ? ? ” Yikes, I hope not, because, as you have said, how do I KNOW that I have the guidance from the Holy Spirit that the Holy Father has??? Then I think on how Protestant all this dissent sounds. I always like to say that the only person in the world who has the graces to be the Pope, is the Pope, not me, not anyone else.

    God Bless you and THANK YOU again for allowing me to learn so much from Where Peter Is

  1. April 25, 2018

    […] Finally, there are more reasons for Pope Francis to nominate his bishops besides their reputed opposition to the pro-life cause. Just like there are many reasons for him to have demoted Cardinal Burke besides his pro-life advocacy (his soft opposition to the magisterial document Amoris Laetitia comes to mind). […]

  2. June 2, 2018

    […] Pedro Gabriel talks about the serious flaw in the “Sola Traditio” mindset here. […]

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