While Protestants have their sola scriptura, despite it being nowhere in the Bible, Catholics have their sola papa — pope alone — which guides their reasoning about what is wrong or right. This is as much a novelty as many perceptions propagated by the mass media becoming popular within the last century that were for the most part invisible, if they even existed, throughout history. That is: because so much of the pope’s actions and words can reach distant audiences, he garners a sort of cult that relies on him to express what Christians must do in the modern world.
I have had a few conversations within the past week that have confirmed this, and seen multiple articles in response to Fr. Weinandy’s publicized inquiry and request to the pope to, yet again, clarify certain things the faithful have not understood.
I would first like to note that my confirmation saint, Pius X, specifically called for love from the faithful. In his era, modernism — the synthesis of all heresies, as he called it, fused into an attempt to modernize the faith so that it can appeal to modern minds — was abounding in the Church. He took it quite seriously and sought many reforms in the Church. He catechized children in the courtyard of the Vatican and defined as well as condemned modernism with his encyclical Pascendi Domini. He knew what he was dealing with — a rebellion — and he wanted it to be squashed.
I mention this for two reasons, one directly flowing from the other. Firstly, context for the pope’s reign must be understood. The fact that Vatican II has demarcated the beginning of an era in the Church where error seems commonplace and the faithful often have to avoid Masses or warn their friends about them. A laundry list of issues in the Church that many wish to whitewash, hoping to thereby rid of stains from Vatican II, could be reiterated here, but I will spare my audience. It is enough to say the Church has seen an increase in troubles since Vatican II and it leaves one to wonder where they came from. If Pope St. Pius X himself opposed and intended to thoroughly suffocate modernism in the church, we should expect his words and actions to reflect that. So let us consider that he taught children in a courtyard in the Vatican, instructed priests to teach from the catechism every Sunday, and declared only sacred music (Gregorian chant and polyphany) to be worthy of a place in Mass.
He was aware that in his time, “It is a common complaint, unfortunately too well founded, that there are large numbers of Christians in our own time who are entirely ignorant of those truths necessary for salvation.” He did not simply suggest there are those in need of pastoral outreach, but he went further and offered a reason why that is: because they don’t know what it takes for their soul to be saved.
He wanted the faithful to be instructed, therefore, with no excuses abiding.
“There is too much preaching and too little teaching. Put aside these flowery and elaborate discourses, and preach to the people plainly and simply on the eternal truths of faith and on the teaching of the Gospel. Think of the good of souls rather than of the impression you are making.”
He held no illusions about what the consequences of this kind of twaddle substituted for catechesis and proper instruction:
“When we consider the forces, knowledge, and supernatural virtues which are necessary to establish the Christian City, and the sufferings of millions of martyrs, and the light given by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and the self-sacrifice of all the heroes of charity, and a powerful hierarchy ordained in heaven, and the streams of Divine Grace – the whole having been built up, bound together, and impregnated by the life and spirit of Jesus Christ, the Wisdom of God, the Word made man – when we think, I say, of all this, it is frightening to behold new apostles eagerly attempting to do better by a common interchange of vague idealism and civic virtues. What are they going to produce? What is to come of this collaboration? A mere verbal and chimerical construction in which we shall see, glowing in a jumble, and in seductive confusion, the words Liberty, Justice, Fraternity, Love, Equality, and human exultation, all resting upon an ill-understood human dignity.”
Because he understood that the modernists were trying to alter the Church’s teachings, he warned that “he who dissents even in one point from divinely revealed truth absolutely rejects all faith, since he thereby refuses to honour God as the supreme truth and the formal motive of faith.” From his fidelity to the Church’s teachings flowed his great respect for tradition and what had been handed to him. In his evaluation, Modernists “exercise all their ingenuity in diminishing the force and falsifying the character of tradition, so as to rob it of all its weight.”
Having no patience for these false Catholics, he demanded clergy to “thwart such proud men, to employ them only in the lowest and obscurest offices; the higher they try to rise, the lower let them be placed, so that their lowly position may deprive them of the power of causing damage.” Who would blame him? He rightly understood what could be described as the trajectory of the West since the Reformation: “The first step in this direction was taken by Protestantism; the second is made by Modernism; the next will plunge headlong into atheism.”
I hope it has been clear that Pope St. Pius X spoke on the authority of his office because he felt a deep pang at the sight of a prospect of the faithful being mostly lost to sin, essentially his own office being disregarded and his own responsibility unfulfilled. With foresight he spoke of his mission and its purpose for being iterated at that time:
“Our Apostolic Mandate requires from Us that We watch over the purity of the Faith and the integrity of Catholic discipline. It requires from Us that We protect the faithful from evil and error; especially so when evil and error are presented in dynamic language which, concealing vague notions and ambiguous expressions with emotional and high-sounding words, is likely to set ablaze the hearts of men in pursuit of ideals which, whilst attractive, are nonetheless nefarious.”
So when he says “Tradition is represented by religious authority”, it is because the tradition comes from a mandate from God and must be safeguarded at all times.
But not everyone understands this, apropos my second point. The authority of the pope is invoked selectively. Just last week, Scot Eric Alt posted on Facebook a quotation from St. Pius X in particular which would afford support for Pope Francis’s actions: “When we love the pope, we do not say that he has not spoken clearly enough.” He then links an article from Rorate and neglects to provide any context at all. I hope the above will suffice as context, however. Many do not recognize the fact that, as I’ve mentioned, tradition simply means what is handed on to a subsequent generation. The authority of the pope hinges upon this. That is why we say the pope cannot teach heresy. Heresy is a direct negation of the tradition handed on. If a Catholic taught what Protestants teach about Mary, what others believe about the Eucharist, what Hindus believe about the after life, we would be borrowing from their traditions and not our own. The integrity of the Faith depends on maintaining continuity between the past and the future, which is tradition.
It is not clear that we are, however. Instead, it is clear that many — and I don’t know if it is most: so many Catholics don’t even attend Mass, many are just going to Mass to fulfill and obligation or have first communion or for other reasons — stow all their trust regarding what Our tradition encompasses in the pope. Sola papa is the common interpretation of the magisterium and Church teachings.
Earlier this week, two friends of mine that I highly respect — and trust to likely have a more informed faith than me in many areas — basically said that whatever the pope and those in the hierarchy who follow him do is right. I am not equivocating. To one friend I tried to stress that Lefebvre viewed the Church to be in a crisis — a point, with, however, some equivocating, pope apologists will admit — as well as the fact that he was simply handing on the faith tradition granted to him, but all that was said is that whatever the Church is doing at the moment, led by the pope, we must do. With another friend, I have been discussing Fr. Weinandy’s letter and forced resignation. When I took to a Socratic method for questioning why the pope should be followed, all I got was “because he’s the pope.” Nothing more. The same friend quoted the following from St. Pius X “To debate and criticize the wishes of the pope…[does] scandal to the good and great damage to souls.” Once again there is no admission of any differences in the contexts of Pius X and Francis’s pontificates.
Katie van Schaijik
criticizes the letter, starting with a clarification all of Francis’s Satellite Swiss Guard suggests: “The reverence (which is something more than respect) we owe the Pope is not to his office—not to a position or a set of functions—but to a person, the person of the Holy Father.” This is her response to Fr. Weinandy beginning his letter by saying
“I write this letter with love for the Church and sincere respect for your office. You are the Vicar of Christ on earth, the shepherd of his flock, the successor to St. Peter and so the rock upon which Christ will build his Church. All Catholics, clergy and laity alike, are to look to you with filial loyalty and obedience grounded in truth. The Church turns to you in a spirit of faith, with the hope that you will guide her in love.
She claims “Fr. Weinandy begins by professing his respect for the Pope’s office, and immediately a red flag goes up for me.” One word at the end of one sentence from the entire first paragraph that speaks of a person invested with the highest authority in the Church brings into sight a red flag. I’m not sure I understand that level of caution being confirmed that early on unless one’s bias weren’t subdued by the gravitas of charity. But charity is never important for the prideful or those taken by the certitude that they are not only without error, but that their incapable of being wrong.
The bias continues: “Setting aside its shocking brazenness (who is he to lecture the Vicar of Christ?!), is this a just criticism? It doesn’t seem so to me. I don’t hear Pope Francis demeaning doctrine, only rebuking the doctrinaire.” First of all, I don’t know how anyone, again, could read Weinandy’s letter and take it to be a lecture. As I have mentioned to friends, I myself thought it was too nice a letter concerning the subject. But it is what it is, and a lecture it definitely is not. Secondly, doctrinaire’s are not rebuked by vagueries. They are simply confused by them, which is precisely what’s been going on, which is precisely why these apparently heterodox and condemned responses to Amoris are wrought with questions and admitted deference to the pope. They are asking to be led. Call it the dumbness of a lamb. I gladly admit such an idiocy to be ripe in me — and often. But for the love of the Lord, take these men at their word: perhaps they are genuinely concerned and need just as much mercy and compassion as homosexuals, immigrants, and all the other marginalized groups do — Lord knows if they are full of sin as so many progressives suggest, it would only benefit their soul (and by extension, amply benefit the souls entrusted to their guidance).
Later, Schaijik warns of how ” Experts in law and doctrine are naturally inclined
to exaggerate the importance of doctrine and law. They are inclined to become disengaged from the concrete and individual and to prefer the abstract and general. It’s a widespread, deep and serious problem; the Holy Father is right to warn us against it.” (Her emphasis.) This is a charge that bloomed with Francis speaking of rigorism and rigidity in the Church. It’s a full blown apple tree now, its fruit hanging ripe for the taking and being taken all the time. I will admit there is a tendency for elites in any field of knowledge to become divested of real world experience. But such a worthless claim cannot be taken otherwise when the same speaker says the “chronic confusion” Weindandy speaks of isn’t real because “when I look around it seems to me that it’s not the faithful generally who are confused and uneasy, but only a particular (and very small) set of the faithful, vis. the doctrinely-focused conservative set.” My experience has been quite otherwise, and the same goes for the cardinals behind the dubia, those who signed the filial correction, and even Fr. Weinandy who said
he has “received many positive and encouraging notes from theologians, priests, and lay people.” I should like to know how those marching on the anniversary of Summorum Pontificum feel as well. One might have to take some time to get a proper sample size relative to the whole. As Joseph Shaw says
, those pictured were just the vanguard, those leading the way.
Schaijik ends with a few an equivalence she doesn’t recognize and a contradiction. Her reaction to the letter, that she did not finish reading, “wasn’t ‘How dare a priest criticize the Holy Father!’ rather it was, ‘Fr. Weinandy has completely misunderstood Pope Francis, and he’s hurting the Church by publicizing his misunderstanding.’ I understand the distinction, but there is no way to begin with the latter and not arrive at the former. At least I haven’t seen a papal apologist accomplish as much.
Then this: “Attacks like his do harm because they foster fear and mistrust; they prevent us opening our hearts and minds to what ‘the Spirit is saying to the churches’ through the person of our Holy Father.” Attacks like Fr. Weinandy’s do harm because they foster fear and mistrust, but here, because I am in agreement with the person of our Holy Father, I’d like to foster your fear that some traditionalists are fostering fear and mistrust and therefore dividing the Church. Honestly, what gives? Plain speech is a plain rarity now.
Another issue that isn’t talked about much when it comes to pope apologists is how they inadvertently make the point that traditionalists are right. They often, as Msgr. John Strynkowski does
, insist on greater clarity — “Unless you are willing to name …”; ” …it would have been more responsible to specify…” — even as they are rebuking another for humbly requesting the same from the pope. But unbeknownst to the instructor is their own error.
I came to the Church for Her unfettered honesty, the clear notion made amply visible in the liturgy, the Douay-Rheims Bible, the prayers in Mass and apart of other devotionals, the artwork and icons, the cross as a throne that didn’t hide Our King. All of it gave me the impression that, as Augustine said, “God does not need my lie.” So I have done my best to be more honest with God, myself, and others. I admit my dislike for a lot of what is happening in the Church is more or less personal, for it is based on having experienced similar ideas — I almost said ideologies — outside of the Church. That is one reason I have a nagging response to many liberals and progressives which I as of yet have not uttered to any of them: if you want mercy, compassion, and joy without any hint of judgement (or should I say cross?), then you can find it in resplendently outside of the Church. Ergo, when Catholics talk about these things, it takes every last fiber in me to not completely withdraw from the labor of taking them seriously.
When I hear Francis talk about these things, when he emphasizes them over tradition, building virtue, preparing one’s self for reception of the Holy Eucharist, examining our conscience and finding truth outside of the world’s ideologies — well, then I struggle to take my faith seriously. Those who defend him, I completely understand, but at a certain point it ceases to be the right thing to do. God does not need our lie, and neither does the pope.
Here are some suggested readings on what’s happened until now with this situation.
Others are already in the article: