The following exchange is a real dialogue that truly happened between a high-profile Catholic theologian, disgruntled with the Pope, and an archbishop trying to set him again on the path of obedience to the Church:

“Archbishop: Let us now begin to work again for our Holy Church.

Theologian: Indeed, for the Church of old.

Archbishop: There is only one Church, that is neither old nor new.

Theologian: They have made a new church.”

The theologian in this conversation was called Ignaz von Döllinger. The Pope with whom he was disgruntled was Blessed Pope Pius IX. The “new church” he is referring to is a post-conciliar Church: the Church after the First Vatican Council, where the “new” doctrines of papal primacy and papal infallibility were defined. The dialogue happened in 1870, according to historian John W. O’Malley’s book “Vatican I, the Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church” (a book that, if not balanced and neutral, seems to me to actually be a bit biased against the ultramontane movement.)

In light of this, it is not surprising that those who resisted the First Vatican Council’s doctrines would call themselves “The Old Catholic Church“.

Fast forwarding a century and a half or so, we encounter an organized movement bent on resisting Pope Francis’ teachings, reforms and leadership. The people belonging to this movement claim to be the actual defenders of the true Catholic faith. Their argument is that Francis’ teachings obviously contradict previous magisterial statements and should, therefore, be dismissed. Their reasoning is that, if the Church has believed something for millennia and a pontiff comes along and overturns it, then a faithful Catholic should adhere to the traditional understanding and reject the Pope’s changes.

But, since they seem so bent on defending doctrine, one must then ask them where they get the notion that a Catholic can or should behave like that? Where does it say, in any authoritative document (emphasis on the word “authoritative”), that the faithful should prooftext Church documents against past magisterial teachings, and that if they find an alleged contradiction with the Magisterium of the current Pope, they can dismiss it and disobey him? Mind you, this is a similar exercise to asking a Protestant where he finds Sola Scriptura in the Bible. Claiming external validation along the lines of “it’s just obvious” (or some other convoluted variation of that) just doesn’t cut it.

On the other hand, if we study Church History long enough, we can see that this way of reasoning has been at the root of many (if not all) heresies that Catholicism has fought against. It appears that this happens through two mechanisms. I’ll try to explain them in the remainder of this article.

But first, a disclaimer: when I say that heresy pretends to be tradition, I’m not saying that tradition is heresy. Quite the contrary, Tradition is one of the deposits of the Word of God and one of the pillars of Truth. And even traditions (lower case “t“) have a structural and fundamental role in the Church in general and for each faithful in particular. I do not include in my critique any Catholic who labels himself “traditionalist” and exercises his/her liturgical preferences in full communion with the Pope. Rather, I’m talking solely about people who dissent from the Pope, who spread division and confusion by alienating the faithful from the Vicar of Christ, and who misuse the word “tradition” to mean their personal interpretation of the faith, separate from the Magisterium.

The first way a misguided view of tradition can lead to heresy is illustrated masterfully by none other than C.S. Lewis (my emphasis):

“I feel a strong desire to tell you—and I expect you feel a strong desire to tell me—which of these two errors is the worse. That is the devil getting at us. He always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.”

— Mere Christianity, Book 4, Section 6

This is astoundingly true, if we study Church History at length. For example, during the Christological debates in the first millennium, the fierce fight against the Arian heresy (overemphasizing the human nature of Jesus) produced the diametrically opposite heresy of Monophysitism (exaggerating Jesus’ divine nature).

So, while it is true we should hold on to tradition in order to avoid falling prey of novelties which have nothing to do with Christian doctrine, it is also sadly true that clinging too much to tradition can result in a kind of idolatry. This can distance us from God’s truth.

Nowadays, the Church faces a widespread indifferentism in the West, if not an all-out hostility from more liberal and secularized sectors (whether they are dissenting Catholics or atheists). This indifferentism and hostility stems from Modernism, i.e. the notion that the Catholic Church must adapt its teachings to modern society’s expectations and values, no matter how antithetical they are to Catholic doctrine. Pope St. Pius X, a champion against the modernist heresy (and unfortunately, a pontiff whose name is often abused to foster dissent and disobedience against the current pope or the post-conciliar Church), has dubbed Modernism “the synthesis of all heresies” (Pascendi Dominici Gregis #39).

Yet, in spite of the grievousness of the modernist heresy (or precisely because of it,) a Catholic must guard himself from falling into the opposite error: a kind of fixism, whereby the Church is presumed to remain immutable throughout the ages, without any development whatsoever. This Catholic, used to fight against widespread Modernism at all times, may start to see Modernism crawling under every rock, falling into what Joseph Ratzinger is on record as calling, during the Second Vatican Council, an “antimodernist neurosis” (Theological Highlights of Vatican II).

By doing so, this fixist extremist may even turn against his own Church, who he supposedly defends, if the Church does not conform to what his views of tradition may be. This fixism can even be purely practical, in that one acknowledges the possibility of development while outright rejecting any development actually happening in front of his eyes. Every development of doctrine or change in practice (either disciplinary, pastoral or liturgical) will be received with suspicion as a subtle and slowly infiltrating Modernism.

The problem with this approach is… each development of doctrine, if approved by authoritative / magisterial sources is also a part of doctrine, just like the more traditional teachings are. In other words, a Catholic can’t just dismiss them without falling into what Pope St. John Paul II called “Cafeteria Catholicism.” Furthermore, development of doctrine itself is also a part of our doctrine. It is part of our doctrine the acknowledgment that doctrine can develop. Just like it’s part of our doctrine that the Pope has the freedom to carry out changes to disciplinary and pastoral practices.

We can’t fight against an error by falling into the opposite error, as C.S. Lewis warns us about. It is telling that even Pope St. Pius X, champion of the antimodernist cause, was able to condemn in equal measure the “rigorism” (that’s the term he actually used) opposing his liberalization of the access to the Eucharist. In this way, Pope Francis is in very traditional grounds when he decries rigorists who oppose his sacramental reforms in Amoris Laetita.

Some may raise the objection that development of doctrine must be done in continuity with previous teachings. The fact that doctrine develops does not mean that it can contradict itself. So, if a Pope issues teachings that contradict previous doctrine, we should hold fast to the previous interpretation. After all, if Catholics were not wrong to assent to the previous teaching that also had magisterial weight, how can they suddenly be wrong now?

There is a fatal flaw in this argument: both teachings, the old and the new, receive their authority from the same source. Therefore, why should the Catholics of old be the ones who got it right? If someone must be wrong, and doctrine actually changes to its contradictory form, why should we be on the side of antiquity by default? Rather, if both teachings are contradictory, then all the foundations on which the Catholic Church rests crumble, and the old teachings do not survive this collapse. Just yelling “tradition” and then burying the head in the sand of previous teachings won’t preserve the integrity of Catholicism, since it mandates a living and trustworthy Church to preserve such teachings.

Nevertheless, can’t we say that Tradition is the deposit of faith handed down since apostolic times and that heresy always constitutes a departure from that deposit? In other words, isn’t heresy always a novelty? And therefore, shouldn’t we always be distrustful of new teachings that seem to contradict old ones?

The problem with this reasoning is that it ignores a fundamental fact, clearly visible but also widely overlooked when we study Church History. Even if it is true that heresy is always “novelty,” it is also true that heresy never views itself as such. Rather, heresy always sees itself as restoring Christianity to its original purity, what it was before the introduction of “traditions of men” by Church authorities.

Let us take a look at Protestantism. Protestants read the Holy Bible and find some teachings there that seem, on the surface, to contradict Catholic doctrine and praxis (eg: venerating images) or that do not seem to have any scriptural basis (eg: praying for the intercession of the saints). They claim that Sola Scriptura is the way to access what Jesus Christ actually taught, and to understand the primitive Church before a general apostasy overtook all of Christendom until Luther finally got it right again.

The problem is, Sola Scriptura is itself a novelty. Christianity evolved from Temple Judaism, a very priestly religion (even Scripture confirms this repeatedly, from Leviticus to the Epistle to the Hebrews). All the most ancient branches of Christianity (Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, etc.) are priestly in nature, with a hierarchy of priests tasked to interpret Scripture and Tradition, who trace their succession line to the Apostles themselves. Christianity was never a Religion of the Book (like, say, Islam) until Luther, 1,500 years after Christ ascended to Heaven.

In their eagerness to preserve the original core of Christianity and to save it from all the alleged innovations of the papacy, the Protestants surreptitiously introduced a novelty of their own, without even realizing it.

Even Modernism, despite all of its connections to modernity and progressivism, claims to be “traditional” in this sense. How many times we see people railing against Church teaching by arguing: “Jesus would never agree with such hateful teachings. He never wanted institutionalized religion, or Catholic sexual mores, or dogmas, or whatever. He was all about love, as I define it. I am the true follower of Jesus, the Church is not!

Similarly, the current dissent against Pope Francis’ magisterium, which claims to preserve the Tradition of the Church by defending the teachings of previous popes, introduces novelties that are foreign to Catholic doctrine. In order to avoid the cognitive dissonance of being faithful by disobeying the Vicar of Christ, they need to spread non-Catholic ideas about the primacy of Peter, the assent that is owed to non-infallible papal teachings, the nature of mortal sin, and the proper way for the laity to respond when it doesn’t agree with the Pope. None of these ideas have any magisterial backing at all, yet dissenters disseminate these errors in order to promote their so-called Tradition.

If continuity is a hallmark of papal orthodoxy, then I must say that Pope Francis is, indeed, in continuity with most (if not all) of his predecessors. Every single legitimate development of doctrine in Church History was resisted at the time by those who thought they knew Tradition better. But in the end, Roma locuta est, causa finita est. Those who did not accept this would inevitably be viewed as those on the wrong side of the schism.

In fact, this dynamic is so traditional, that it is in continuity with the first Pope, when he needed to fight the first heresy in Church History: the Judaizers.

For almost two millennia, the Mosaic Law was a constitutive part of the Jewish religion. The law had been handed down from God as an irrevocable covenant. The Temple and the sacrifices performed in it, as defined in the Law-containing Torah, were the central part of their religious observance. The faithful would be called “righteous” because they would be the ones who would more perfectly follow God’s given law. Circumcision played a crucial role in the Jews’ religious identity, almost akin to our Baptism. And there were people who were martyred, alongside with their families, because they refused to deviate one inch from the Law.

Just imagine how people would be confused, in the Apostolic Church, when some Paul guy came along saying that Gentiles didn’t need to be circumcised, or proclaiming such revolutionary things as: “Therefore, my brethren, you also are become dead to the law, by the body of Christ; that you may belong to another, who is risen again from the dead, that we may bring forth fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members, to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are loosed from the law of death, wherein we were detained; so that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (Rm 7:4-6; DRV).

Was St. Paul a modernist? Not at all. In the very next verse, he explains the true purpose of the Law. And if the Judaizers at the time had been able to discern the “signs of times,” they would’ve seen a trajectory — a development along the Prophets — with a progressive de-emphasis on purely ritualistic sacrifices (Hos 6:6; Ps: 51:6) and a progressive emphasis on the inner transformation of the individual through God’s grace (Jl 2:13; Jer 4:4; Ez: 36:26-27.) And if the Judaizers had explored the nuances, they would have understood that the issue was not as straightforward as it seemed at first glance regarding their insistence that Gentile Christians were required to submit themselves to all the ritualistic practices of the Mosaic Law.

Still, the polarization began and there seemed to be no way to quell it. Both opposing parties battled for the heart of young Christianity, even though the Judaizers seemed, on the surface, to be the more “traditional” faction. How to settle the dispute?

In the end, it all boiled down to a decision by authority. A Council was convened with all the Apostles, who had received their authority directly from Jesus, God made man. In the end, the Council, led by St. Peter, the first pope, declared the Judaizers’ position wrong.

I am certain that many who heard of this decision murmured: “Who is this Peter, that he thinks he can stand up to Moses himself? How does he dare to overturn our age-old traditions?

But Scripture tells us that Peter was not acting out of his own accord or opinion, but as a vehicle of God’s will. In Acts 11, Peter explains that his decision on this topic came from God Himself, so it would be foolish to try to pit Peter against God, as if Peter was contravening God’s eternal law by eating from unclean animals forbidden in the Torah. Peter had Magisterial authority, while those who adhered to their personal interpretations of the Law did not, no matter how traditional they thought themselves to be.

But there is an even greater continuity here. Francis may be in continuity with Peter, but Peter is in continuity with the Lord Himself, for he is the Vicar of Christ.

Remember, Jesus said that He didn’t overturn one iota, or one dot from the Law (Mt 5:18). However, the Pharisees surely had a lot of trouble reconciling this with His apparent overturning of the Mosaic Law regarding punishment for adulterers (Jo 8), or the possibility to issue letters of divorce (Mk 10:2-12), or the Sabbath (Mk 2:23-28), or ritual purity (Mk 7:1-16). Jesus had this to say about them:

“Well did Isaias prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain do they worship me, teaching doctrines and precepts of men. For leaving the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, the washing of pots and of cups: and many other things you do like to these. And he said to them: Well do you make void the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition.”

— Mk 7:7-8 (DRV)

In short, they were not adhering to Tradition, but to their own interpretation of it. The reason we know this is because Jesus was God Himself, the source of both the Law and the deposit of faith that would eventually become known as Tradition.

Nevertheless, the Pharisees didn’t see things that way. They surely thought this Jesus was introducing novelties and confusing the faithful. In the end, they crucified Him, killing God Himself Whom they claimed to serve.

Does this mean that God can contradict Himself? As two millennia of scriptural analysis by all kinds of orthodox writers and theologians attest, the teachings of Christ can be reconciled with a proper understanding of Mosaic Law. However, God wants his faithful to progress in their knowledge of Him, so He has the authority to deepen this understanding in ways that may seem strange at first, but can be reconciled if one is humble enough.

In the middle of so many contradictory interpretations, the only way a person may have to not fall in the error of private interpretation is to stick with the one who has authority: Jesus. And Jesus bequeathed this authority to teach and confirm the faithful — not to theologians and pundits in social media — but to St. Peter, who passed it on along an unbroken succession of popes until the current Vicar of Christ.

Pope Francis has repeatedly stated that all of his developments of doctrine are in continuity with his predecessors. In other words, he has reassured us that not one iota or dot has been changed from Tradition. Those who are traditionally-minded should, therefore, look to the past for guidance on what to do in this kind of situation: do not be deceived by apparent contradictions exploited by false teachers armed with “traditions of men.” Humble yourself and acknowledge that God wants to guide us with new lessons and give us deeper understandings of his unchanging Tradition.

In this vein, I would like to conclude with a quote from soon-to-be-canonized Cardinal John Henry Newman, one of the greatest theologians of all times on the topic of doctrine development:

“A man is converted to the Catholic Church from his admiration of its religious system, and his disgust with Protestantism. That admiration remains; but, after a time, he leaves his new faith, perhaps returns to his old. The reason, if we may conjecture, may sometimes be this: he has never believed in the Church’s infallibility; in her doctrinal truth he has believed, but in her infallibility, no. He was asked, before he was received, whether he held all that the Church taught, he replied he did; but he understood the question to mean, whether he held those particular doctrines “which at that time the Church in matter of fact formally taught,” whereas it really meant “whatever the Church then or at any future time should teach.” Thus, he never had the indispensable and elementary faith of a Catholic, and was simply no subject for reception into the fold of the Church. This being the case, when the Immaculate Conception is defined, he feels that it is something more than he bargained for when he became a Catholic, and accordingly he gives up his religious profession. The world will say that he has lost his certitude of the divinity of the Catholic Faith, but he never had it.”

— Blessed Cardinal Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent

[Picture: Detail from “Council of Trent”, depicting the Church crushing Heresy; Pasquale Cati, 1588]

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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.

When Heresy pretends to be Tradition

63 Responses

  1. Pedro Gabriel says:

    Mike Lewis has brought my attention to this other quote from Blessed Cardinal Newman. I think it is extremely apropos:

    “And, in like manner, ideas may remain, when the expression of them is indefinitely varied; and we cannot determine whether a professed development is truly such or not, without some further knowledge than an experience of the mere fact of this variation. Nor will our instinctive feelings serve as a criterion. It must have been an extreme shock to St. Peter to be told he must slay and eat beasts, unclean as well as clean, though such a command was implied already in that faith which he held and taught; a shock, which a single effort, or a short period, or the force of reason would not suffice to overcome. Nay, it may happen that a representation which varies from its original may be felt as more true and faithful than one which has more pretensions to be exact. So it is with many a portrait which is not striking: at first look, of course, it disappoints us; but when we are familiar with it, we see in it what we could not see at first, and prefer it, not to a perfect likeness, but to many a sketch which is so precise as to be a caricature.”

  2. Joaquin Mejia says:

    This is such a wonderful essay! I learned so much from it.

  3. Ashpenaz says:

    Doctrine doesn’t change, but as new information comes in, we see the deposit of faith more clearly. The Church used to teach that the earth was the center of the universe; as new information came in, She taught that the sun was the center. The doctrine didn’t change; the Church simply had information she didn’t have before.

    I think the same will happen with contraception and same-sex relationships. I don’t think the current teachings are wrong, per se; they are poorly informed. We have a better scientific understanding of sexuality than did Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, and even Paul VI. The best peer-reviewed science tells us that homosexual orientation is inborn and irreversible. Social science has documented the quality of gay relationships and families led by same-sex parents. The laity, based on polls, is clearly hearing the Holy Spirit on this issue much faster than the hierarchy. Based on that, I believe that once the bishops take full consideration of all the relevant scientific data, they will find that the deposit of faith has always contained the teaching that homosexual acts are licit within a lifelong, monogamous same-sex relationship. It won’t be a new teaching–it will a development of our understanding which will be seen to be in continuity with tradition–similar to what we have seen with usury, slavery, and the death penalty.

    • Pedro Gabriel says:

      Science can’t pronounce itself on whether a certain behavior is sinful or not. Sinfulness is not a scientifically measurable attribute, but rather a moral and a spiritual one.

      • Hans Georg Lundahl says:

        “The best peer-reviewed science tells us that homosexual orientation is inborn and irreversible.”

        Not even true.

        The only orientation which is known to be stable is heterosexual.

        Homos become bis and bis become exclusive heteros, for instance by marriage. And passing through bi is not necessary.

    • Pete Vickery says:

      Science used to teach that the earth was the center of the universe. The Ptolemaic model existed for over 1000 years and was the scientific consensus. It took an unknown Catholic cleric (Nicolaus Copernicus) to quietly state in his work De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe. This was decades before Galileo. We now know that neither the sun nor the earth are the center of the universe although Copernicus was closer to the truth since the sun is the center of our solar system. Copernicus sent a copy of his work to Pope Paul III. The Church was interested but also attentive to the scientific consensus that had not yet changed. Regardless of all this, the idea that science had proffered and the Church concurred with (Ptolemy’s Theory) had nothing to do with faith or morals. Pope Francis may be dead wrong about global warming yet this will have zero impact on doctrinal or dogmatic teachings of the church. Whatever science finds out about homosexuality may or may not be accepted by the Church. But whether the Church believes the scientific consensus or not does not imply that the Church accepts the licitness of the homosexual act.

      • Hans Georg Lundahl says:

        “Science used to teach that the earth was the center of the universe.”

        Why would that be wrong?

        “Whatever science finds out about homosexuality may or may not be accepted by the Church. But whether the Church believes the scientific consensus or not does not imply that the Church accepts the licitness of the homosexual act.”

        How many “in the Church” are already saying it is illicit for a homosexual to try to get married – to someone of the opposite sex?

        I Tim 4:3

    • M. says:

      The Church can’t pronounce scientific facts as doctrine. I would be interested for you to show where the Church pronounced as official doctrine of the Catholic Church, that the sun was centre of the universe, and where that doctrine was officially changed? Thank you.

  4. Ashpenaz says:

    Even if she possesses the truth of the Gospel, this does not mean that she has completely understood it; rather, she is called to keep growing in her grasp of that inexhaustible treasure.

    This supports my previous post

    • Pedro Gabriel says:

      No it does not, because you are isolating it from its source and context:

      “35. Let us ask the Lord to free the Church from those who would make her grow old, encase her in the past, hold her back or keep her at a standstill. But let us also ask him to free her from another temptation: that of thinking she is young because she accepts everything the world offers her, thinking that she is renewed because she sets her message aside and acts like everybody else.”

      Be careful to not pick an isolated phrase that you may quote extensively whenever you want to validate a preconceived opinion you might have.

      • Ashpenaz says:

        The longer quote works, too. The point is we don’t fully grasp the whole truth. As we gain new information and insight, we realize more deeply what has already been revealed. No, science can’t tell us what is and is not sinful–but it can give us new data upon which to reflect. I believe that what we know now about homosexuality that we didn’t know before will lead the Church to a deeper awareness of what God has always revealed. God has always known that homosexuality is inborn and irreversible, and He has always taken that into account–we’re just beginning to understand this, and I think that as the Church studies this new information, She will see more clearly what I think God already sees: homosexual acts are licit in a loving, monogamous, lifelong relationship.

        And if you believe in the Catholic Church the way Newman describes, you will have to assent to this new understanding.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        Of course everything hinges on that reversal ever coming true, something you seem to have an unwavering faith on, but which we have absolutely no proof will ever happen

      • Ashpenaz says:

        I hope the appointment of Archbishop Gregory, who appears to have similar thoughts to mine on same-sex couples, will help show the way for the Church to discern more deeply the inexhaustible riches of the deposit of faith.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        I would be very interested in reading actual quotes (not guilt by association or spins from conservative or liberal sites) from Archbishop Wilton stating something similar to your thoughts: that active homosexual relationships are not sinful, but paths to holiness, as you claim

        Either way, a Bishop only has authority when he teaches in communion with the Pope. And the Pope does not subscribe to what you have been promoting.

      • Ashpenaz says:

        While indirect, Archbishop Wilton’s invitation to Fr. James Martin suggests sympathy to the gay community:

        Archbishop Gregory, in a statement, said, “Several weeks ago I was asked by one of our pastors to invite Father Martin to share his perspective on ministry to the LGBTQ community as part of a larger, local parish conversation. I did not hesitate to support that pastor in extending the invitation. A second parish then asked to host Father Martin during the same visit.”

        Archbishop Gregory said, “Conscious of the considerable misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding Father Martin’s message as it relates to the church’s teaching, I renew my confidence in both the pastors and the presenter. I ask that you please join me in a spirit of respect for the dignity of every person of God as we welcome Father James Martin to the Archdiocese of Atlanta.”

        Also, while a bishop might only have teaching authority in communion with the Pope, synods have their own teaching authority and can make decisions concerning their diocese without direct approval of the Pope, as we saw in the Youth Synod. It will be interesting to see what the German bishops do concerning same-sex couples when they hold their upcoming synod. I suspect that their thinking and mine will be in line.

        Also, I didn’t say homosexual acts weren’t sinful–I said they were licit in a certain, specific context.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        Being pastoral to LGBT people does not entail that homosexual acts as licit, whatever the context. I think Archbishop Gregory is more in line with Pope Francis than the German Bishops on that regard.

      • Ashpenaz says:

        Before Amoris Laetitia, many people said that being pastoral to divorced people did not require making it licit to give them access them to the sacraments, whatever the context. Also, many people did not see the death penalty as inadmissible. If the wording of the Catechism can change on the death penalty, then I can hope for a day when “intrinsically disordered” is changed to “differently ordered.”

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        From there it does not follow that anything is fair game. As the point of my articles goes, it is a matter of authority. The same authority that developed doctrine in this way, the same authority that Amoris Laetitia dissenters try to bury, that same authority has not changed, nor does it seem bent on chaning, the Catholic teaching on homosexuality.

      • Ashpenaz says:

        It’s not about change–it’s about seeing the deposit of faith more clearly.

        I appreciate this discussion! This is the kind of dialogue we as a Church need to be having–respectful, but honest. I like this site because you can have this kind of thoughtful interchange.

      • M. says:

        Ashpenaz, I have a question. Do you think and hope also that the Church will change its teaching on other sexual acts that are not deemed licit, and bar one who engages in them without repentance also from Communion? I am speaking of illicit acts like masturbation and contraception, which have the same outcome as homosexual acts- that of divorcing sexual pleasure from either its unitive or procreative aspects, or of both.
        If not, may I ask why? The Church has taught that these acts are intrinsically disordered, in very similar fashion to the homosexual act. The person is not disordered- the act, however, is. Heterosexual married couples who take the Church’s teaching seriously and try to follow it, have tremendous difficulty in following this teaching because it means that often they may not express fully their physical relationship. It is even harder for homosexual orientation because the ban will be permanent. I must ask you- if something seems difficult, often even to the point of seeming impossible to follow- does that mean that it can’t be true?

  5. Hans Georg Lundahl says:

    “He always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. ”

    This was noted by Chesterton as well.

    A Classic would actually be Sabellius and after him Paul of Samosata with Arius.

    “So, while it is true we should hold on to tradition in order to avoid falling prey of novelties which have nothing to do with Christian doctrine, it is also sadly true that clinging too much to tradition can result in a kind of idolatry. ”

    It so happens, to Chesterton it was precisely tradition – certainly interpreted through the magisterium, but through a magisterium serving tradition, which helped us escape falling into either of twin opposite errors.

    • Pedro Gabriel says:

      Precisely. Tradition and Magisterium are two interconnected and inseparable entities. But I’m not the one claiming that they exist apart from each other so that you can pit one against the other. And neither is Chesterton.

      • Hans Georg Lundahl says:

        Neither am I, I am no longer SSPX.

        You are asking Catholics to reject SSPX (which is probably correct, as long as they retain a position no longer connected to a realistic hope one of modern “Popes” will say “my bad”) and instead chose obedience to “Pope Francis” or obedience to either of Pope Michael or the more realistics antipope Alexander IX.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        The idea that the Popes are supposed to say “my bad” for Catholics to come back to full communion with them is exactly the sort of un-Catholic and un-traditional thinking that both SSPX and sedevacantists share.

  6. Benoît says:

    The quote from Newman is devastating! Thank you for that! I hope that the Church never changes ita teaching on the nature of homosexual acts and always defends and treasure marriage and family. That said, how to church receive and accompany gays and other “minorities” that seeks God, is a work in progress, and one I think, that evangelisation in the West will depend on. Sometimes I wonder if much of the opposition to the Pope is less about his humbleness towards sinners in principle, but rather that his humbleness suggests that some Catholics of a certain leaning will need to be kind to the gay guy they see in Church, instead of feeling superior to him/her.

  7. carn says:

    You asked a question, so you deserve an answer:
    “Where does it say, in any authoritative document (emphasis on the word “authoritative”), that the faithful should prooftext Church documents against past magisterial teachings, and that if they find an alleged contradiction with the Magisterium of the current Pope, they can dismiss it and disobey him?”

    ” I am astonished that you are so promptly turning away from the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are going over to a different gospel-

    7 not that it is another gospel; except that there are trouble-makers among you who are seeking to pervert the gospel of Christ.

    8 But even if we ourselves or an angel from heaven preaches to you a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let God’s curse be on him.

    9 I repeat again what we declared before: anyone who preaches to you a gospel other than the one you were first given is to be under God’s curse.”

    That Church document has been repeatedly confirmed to be authoritative since about 1600 years.

    Accordingly, it is Catholic teaching that if catholics, priests, bishops, cardinals, popes, saints, apostels and/or angels or any other creature (besides maybe Christ himself) come along and preach a gospel different from the gospel taught before, the faithful should stick with the gospel taught before.

    The only mean available for the faithful to determine whether some gospel taught now is different from the one before is their own mind, heart and prayer.

    As furthermore the Church authoritatively teaches at least as long that “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.'” one can presume that any new gospel wherein something formerly being “yes” is now a “no” – or in other words contradicts the old gospel – is candidate for rejection by the faithful.

    Accordingly, the Church has authoritatively taught and still teaches that if any catholic, priest, bishop, cardinal, pope, saint, apostle or angel teaches something contradicting prior teaching, faithful are to reject it. Accordingly, the faithful have the duty to “prooftext Church documents against past magisterial teachings” if there is indication that such a thing might be going on, to determine whether there is some new gospel is preached in contradiction to the old one.

    The only thing absolutely exempt from such prooftexting are ex cathedra items.

    And that of course does not change that there is with such prooftexting the risk of falling oneself to a false gospel, e.g. when one gets the gospel preached so far wrong.

    Declarations of the catholics, priests, bishops, cardinals, popes, saints, apostles and/or angels that although they preach a new gospel different from the old one that there is no contradiction between their new gospel and the old one are obviously null and void, as the respective catholic, priest, bishop, cardinal, pope, saint, apostle and/or angel is to be under God’s curse, which obviously implies that his/her declarations have no longer authority.

    • Pedro Gabriel says:

      There is nothing in that quote saying that you should prooftext the Magisterium so that if you think you find an alleged contradiction with previous magisterial documents you can dismiss the teachings.

      That is your personal spin on that biblical quote. Surpisingly, it is also incredibly similar to the spin from Protestants, who use that same quote repeatedly to resist the teachings of the Pope.

      The difference is that they are consistent in applying it. They don’t say that ex cathedra documents are exempt from this like you do. Why should they? Why shouldn’t we prooftext past teaching (namely Scripture) to find alleged contradictions with ex cathedra pronouncements and reject them if we find them contradictory? Why not prooftext the Immaculate Conception dogma with the “everyone has sinned and fallen from grace from God” biblical quote?

      In fact, what the Church has traditionally taught is that this St. Paul quote *can’t* be used to justify a faith based on personal interpretation apart from the Church. To claim otherwise is indeed a “new gospel” that should, per St. Paul’s quote, be rejected.

      In the meantime I note with interest that you have gone from “I don’t really know what the Pope teaches since it is unclear, so I’m not dissenting” to “We can dissent if we prooftext past magisterial teachings and think we found a contradiction”. But the latter, besides having no magisterial backing (as you have not been able to provide apart from a Protestantized reading of a biblical quote taken out of context) is much more wrong and harmful to the faith than giving communion to divorced and remarried not in mortal sin, or than saying that the death penalty is not admissible today.

      • Hans Georg Lundahl says:

        Session IV of Trent has “contra eum sensum, quem tenuit et tenet sancta mater Ecclesia, cuius est iudicare de vero sensu et interpretatione Scripturarum Sanctarum,” therefore the magisterium is bound to its past.

        In the case you both admit a contradiction with the tenuit part and an actual magisterial tenet of that contradiction, one of your admissions needs to be wrong.

        I can respect the stance “I remain wrong, because I don’t know which of two possible rights is the right one”, like a High Church Anglican not sure whether to become Catholic or Orthodox.

        Just because your opponent needs to be wrong on one of two points, it need not be the one where he contradicts you, it can be the one where he agrees with you – as I think is the case with SSPX and yourself.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        Can you please translate that quote? And saying that the Church is bound to its past is different than saying that the faithful should prooftext past magisterial teachings and reject a magisterial teaching if they think they are contradictory

        And it is indeed true that just because you and your opponent do not agree with something, that you might actually be wrong in things you both agree. It’s the case of both sedevacantists and SSPX regarding the orthodoxy of Pope Francis’ Magisterium

      • Peter Aiello says:

        Prooftexting is good when it brings clarity to an issue. You can always look up the reference to see if it is being used properly. I always provide a reference in case someone believes I am taking something out of context or misusing it. It’s an effective way of making a point. Where does it say that prooftexting should not be used?

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        No one said prooftexting per se can’t be used. What I said (and you left out that part) was that prooftexting past magisterial teachings to find alleged contradictions that allow a person to reject current magisterial teachings is not a proper use of Scripture or Tradition

        And it’s not: “where does it say that it can’t be used”. If you, against the Tradition of the Church, say that it is a proper way for a Catholic to behave, the burden of proof is on you to find authoritative documents allowing you to do so

        And to prevent you from posting yet again the same tired quotes: not one of those say that you should prooftext past magisterial teachings so that you can reject the current Magisterium if you think they contradict each other. They simply don’t say that.

      • Peter Aiello says:

        What do we do if a pope develops a doctrine to the point of contradicting Scripture? Are we obligated to give it our assent? Are we prohibited from prooftexting in order to point this out? We also individually have the capacity for spiritual discernment in matters of faith.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        You mean, like when Peter seemed to contradict the Torah? We acknowledge the fallibility of our personal interpretation of the Bible and try to accept the Pope’s authoritative interpretation. Thinking the Pope can contradict Scripture is more akin to Protestant reasoning than Catholic reasoning.

      • Peter Aiello says:

        The pope contradicted Scripture when he said that capital punishment was inadmissible because of the dignity of humanity.
        The Bible says that God commanded capital punishment because of the dignity of humanity (Genesis 9:6).

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        You completely ignored my previous comment’s post. And by doing so, have proven it right.

        No the Pope did not contradict Scritpure. He contradicted only your personal and literalist interpretation of Scripture. We have been through this already:

        Since you are not the authoritative interpreter of Scripture (Lumen Gentium distortions notwithstanding), then the Pope has not contradicted Scripture, just like Peter did not contradict the Torah.

        And I still await your eagerness to lobby for the Church to forbid the eating of foods containing blood, as just happens a few verses before the Gen 9:6 verse you quote out of its authoritative context

      • Peter Aiello says:

        There is no need for any lobbying of Genesis 9:4. The Council of Jerusalem affirmed it: “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well” (Act 15:28-29). This is why I believe that Genesis 9:6 is still in effect.
        I think that we do well if we maintain capital punishment. God knows human nature better than we do.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        “[The holy Roman Church] firmly believes, professes and teaches that every creature of God is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because according to the word of the Lord not what goes into the mouth defiles a person, and because the difference in the Mosaic law between clean and unclean foods belongs to ceremonial practices, which have passed away and lost their efficacy with the coming of the gospel.

        “It also declares that the apostolic prohibition, to abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled, was suited to that time when a single church was rising from Jews and gentiles, who previously lived with different ceremonies and customs. This was so that the gentiles should have some observances in common with Jews, and occasion would be offered of coming together in one worship and faith of God and a cause of dissension might be removed, since by ancient custom blood and strangled things seemed abominable to Jews, and gentiles could be thought to be returning to idolatry if they ate sacrificial food. In places, however, where the Christian religion has been promulgated to such an extent that no Jew is to be met with and all have joined the church, uniformly practising the same rites and ceremonies of the gospel and believing that to the clean all things are clean, since the cause of that apostolic prohibition has ceased, so its effect has ceased.

        “It condemns, then, no kind of food that human society accepts and nobody at all neither man nor woman, should make a distinction between animals, no matter how they died; although for the health of the body, for the practice of virtue or for the sake of regular and ecclesiastical discipline many things that are not proscribed can and should be omitted, as the apostle says all things are lawful, but not all are helpful.”

        (Ecumenical Council of Florence, Session 11

        It is not in effect. The authoritative Church ruled out your literalist interpretation of Scripture.

      • Peter Aiello says:

        The Council of Jerusalem was affirming Genesis 9:4, and not the Mosaic Law’s distinction between clean and unclean animals. It was specifically talking about blood, and not specific kinds of food. The only thing that pertains to idol worship is meat offered to idols. Blood and strangled things in Genesis 9:4 were abominable to God well before Jews and the Mosaic Law even existed.
        I guess that we can also be selective about the Church councils that we pay attention to. Wasn’t the Church authoritative at the Council of Jerusalem?

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        Yes it was. But, as the Council of Florence states, the shifting of customs made that law no longer needed. So there was no contradiction with both of them, even if a literalist interpretation of Scripture might induce someone to think so.

        And there is way around it. The Council of Florence literally “contradicted” Gen 9:4, if you applied the same reasoning as you apply to Gen 9:6 and Pope Francis.

        But what we see in the Council of Florence is that they are giving an authoritative interpretation of the Bible passages on consuming blood. And their interpretation is reasonable. And, most importantly, authoritative. So a literalist interpretation of Gen 9:4 is not acceptable. This shows the danger of interpreting Scripture on our own, apart from its context (which is the Church)

      • Peter Aiello says:

        I see no danger in interpreting Genesis 9:4 and 9:6 literally. Genesis 9:6 was interpreted literally throughout Biblical times and most of Church history. The Church has also been literalist.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        Genesis 1-11 was certainly not interpreted in a literalist way during Biblical times or even early Church times. That mindset is completely foreign to people from the Ancient Era, and is actually more in line with a more modern and western worldview. The literary style from Gen 1-11 is different from the rest of the book, and a literalist worldview of this portion of Scripture is too unsophisticated for the early Jew’s wisdom that they were trying to convey. And St. Augustine was already writing a thorough refutation of the literalist view in his “On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis” right at the 5th century.

        The literalist view of Scripture is more recent, dating back to the Middle Ages and worsened in a bad way because of the Reformation’s emphasis on the personal interpretation of Scripture. By then, anyone thought they could do exegesis and theology, without any attention to the culture and intention of the writer (mind you, this does not mean that people cannot draw from Scripture wisdom as to how to live their lives; the problem emerges when they start to produce doctrine without proper formation)

        But I note with interest that in your eagerness to preserve the death penalty, you have thrown away the Council of Florence too. Which begs the question: why the Council of Florence and not the Second Vatican Council from whence Lumen Gentium comes from?

      • Peter Aiello says:

        Starting out with a definition of ‘literalist’ would be helpful. The New Testament, at times, speaks of events in the first 11 chapters of Genesis. The story of Abraham starts at the end of the eleventh chapter. As far as I know, all of the references are treated as factual events. An example would be 1Peter 3:20.
        I think that this discussion is more about the importance and place of Scripture than it is about capital punishment or whether it’s OK to drink blood or not. Pope Francis has given us the opportunity to examine this issue more closely.
        To be on the safe side, I “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1Thessalonians 5:21). I apply this to all church teaching, which is supposed to be regulated by Scripture.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        Even granting all that, I am sure puzzled by your application of that Bible verse in this context. The death penalty is not “good”

      • Peter Aiello says:

        I would say that the word ‘required’ is better than the word ‘good’ when applied to capital punishment.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        Therefore that Thessalonians quote can’t be used to justify the death penalty. You and the Popes disagree on whether it is required, but you’re not holding fast to what is “good”.

      • Peter Aiello says:

        That gets too technical.

      • Peter Aiello says:

        I disagree with the popes of the last 50 years or so on capital punishment; but I agree with the ones from the previous 1900 years or so.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        Which brings me back to the arguments on this article.

  8. Peter Aiello says:

    This sounds like the debate between strict constitutionalists and those who believe that the constitution is a living, breathing document. Precedent is not allowed to supersede a basic constitutional principle.
    Developed doctrine is not allowed to supersede a basic Biblical principle.

    • Pedro Gabriel says:

      We agree. The Pope cannot contradict Scripture. But he can contradict your personal interpretation of Scripture. And that’s what we’re talking about.

      As I specifically said on my article, interpreting Scripture apart from the authority vested on interpreting it is a notion completely foreign to the Bible authors. It is utterly unscriptural and anachronistic.

      And no, citing Lumen Gentium or the same old tired Bible snippets excised from their authoritative context does not justify your claims.

    • Jane says:

      When the Holy Father spoke regarding the Death Penalty, I began to see more clearly the Gospel story of Christ Our Savior with the woman caught in adultery. This woman was, according to the law of the land at that time, supposed to receive the Death Penalty. She should have been brought to the town square, allowed maybe a few words and then stoned to death. That was the standard for those caught in adultery. When this woman was brought before Our Lord Jesus, He should have comforted and consoled her before this rightful and lawful stoning. He should have blessed her, absolved her of sorts, told her to have peace, and prepared her to face stoning with grace and courage.

      He did not do that.

      He began to write in the sand. It is believed he was writing their own sins in the sand. They dropped their stones to the ground and went away.

      What was Our Lord Jesus teaching here? That perhaps the line between the woman caught in adultery and me is indeed very thin? That if this woman is given a chance to live, she will come to full repentance eventually and sin no more? That redemption comes slowly in time, and stoning her immediately might not bring about the redemption she might otherwise have won, for her sins? That everyone should be allowed the life given by God, to them, in order to repent in God’s time? That we are all liars and murders and all are in need of repentance and conversion? That it is not our place to decide when to end anyone’s life without giving the person the chance to grow in grace and conversion?

      Is not what Pope Francis is saying at least worth our deep and devoted consideration?

      • Marie says:

        Beautiful Jane!

      • Peter Aiello says:

        What the pope says is worth our deep and devoted consideration.

      • carn says:

        “Is not what Pope Francis is saying at least worth our deep and devoted consideration?”

        It is.

        Just after such a deep and devoted consideration one can end up with conclusions what the Pope wanted to express:

        a) Death penalty is immoral today.

        Probably no one would claim that this contradicts any prior Church teaching.

        b) Death penalty is immoral today and was so in the past.

        Which quite a few see as a contradiction with teaching of Bible and past Popes.

        “the woman caught in adultery”

        As far as i know, no one in these discussions ever suggested that the death penalty for her would not have been immoral.

        People more think about serial killers and a lack of a decent prison system to keep them in check; then one can choose between executing the murderer and burying his next victims in a few months; up to BXVI no Pope would have ever said an ill word about executing in such circumstances, since the duty of authorities to protect the public from the killer was in no other way possible.

  9. Ralph says:

    Thank you for this informative article. I think the comparison between Pope Francis and Pope Pius X is something that would be interesting to explore especially since some of the issues with rigorism are relevant to today’s controversies about Amoris Laetita and other issues. It might also be interesting to look into the relevance of the Jansenist debate and the relationship between Jansenism and Gallicanism. I seem some similarities between today’s papal critics and the Jansenists.

    • Pedro Gabriel says:

      The more I read about Pope St. Pius X, the more I am convinced that he and Pope Francis are much more alike than people imagine. How tragic that people usually pit Pius X against the post-conciliar Popes! I’ve also explored the parallels between today’s papal critics and the Modernism condemned by Pius X in my recent article: “Metanoia, a Church in need of conversion”.

      Regarding your point about the similarities between today’s papal critics and the Jansenists, you are spot on. But, IMO, you are especially correct regarding their similarities with the Gallicans. After all, it was the Gallicans that resisted an ecumenical council and tried everything to undermine papal authority.

      • Jane says:

        Oh how much I do agree with your comment about our Pope Francis and Pope St. Pius X! ! ! It would be completely funny if it really was not so sad. I often use Pope Pius X quotes to support my desire and belief that Pope Francis must be defended and listened to!

  10. Marie says:

    Pedro, you have the patience of Job. Besides all the factual information you have provided in the article and the dialogues, it dawned on me how we really all must be thankful for the gifts we have been given. While we may play an active role in developing some of those gifts, we must always remember no gift came from us alone. If we don’t accept that, we give up our gratitude and replace it with pride, where, in the case of the gifts of intelligence and knowledge, we become blind to the possibility of being wrong. You are a role model for humility, and I appreciate it very much.

    • Pete Vickery says:

      I think Pedro is taking on too much penance this Lent in responding to so many horses that have no intention of drinking the water he leads them to.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        I need to start being more patient with people who are not open to the fullness of the faith. So this penance is fitting. Anyhow, I will stop approving comments now in order not to induce more debate. That includes off topic controversies like climate change. I ask and thank you for your understanding 🙂

  11. Pedro Gabriel says:

    The discussion is starting to be very long and is also starting to branch into off-topic discussions, so I’m closing comments until further notice. Thank you all for your understanding and your contributions.

  12. Hegesippus the Papist Platypus says:

    The quote from Newman’s Grammar of Assent, what chapter is that? Thanks ^_^ Very powerful.

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