Where is the Church?
© Copyright 2009, T. Stanfill Benns (None of what appears below — in whole or in part — may be used without the express and written permission of the author.)
Suppose you knew a man whose mother was kidnapped when he was a very young boy. Now this man discovers from a reliable source that after all these years, his mother is alive and free but no one knows exactly where she is. He has believed all his life — despite the odds — that somehow she is still alive, and they would be reunited. He immediately resolves that he will find her no matter what the cost or how long it might take. And so he sets off. Wherever he finds leads, in whatever town or place, he stays until those leads are exhausted, then moves on to the next most likely lead. He finds women he thinks might be his mother, but then realizes they are not. He finds towns he is convinced that she must live in somewhere and remains there longer than in other places. Do you blame him for making mistakes in identifying his mother, or staying too long in the places he has found promising leads? Do you doubt his sincerity or his motives? Do you understand his need to find her and the love that fuels this search? Would you think it unnatural if there was a chance that he could find her and he didn’t make every effort to embark on this search?
I think every reasonable human being knows the answers to these questions. And I think many will see the similarities in this man’s dilemma and those who for decades have been struggling to find Holy Mother Church, so cruelly wrenched away from Catholics with the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958 and the destruction that followed. If the man above had made an honest mistake in identifying his mother, and discovered his mistake, do you think it likely that he would simply content himself with honoring this stranger as his mother? If he had made such a mistake, wouldn’t it be the responsibility of those who thought they might know where she is or might one day be found to advise him he had made such a mistake? Surely it would be incumbent on honest people to make this man aware of such imposture, especially if some unscrupulous woman, who saw he might be able to support her financially, or offer her some much desired but undeserved recognition, knowingly took advantage of his need. This is only human decency.
When Vatican II became obviously heretical and especially when the new “mass” was introduced, “independent” priests began arriving on the scene who offered to serve Catholics who exited from the Novus Ordo. In the beginning, some had jurisdiction. Among these was Rev. Oswald Baker of England and others here and there, who remained in their own territory and served those within that territory. Baker survived for several decades, but others, already elderly passed away over time. In their place many rose up who were illicitly ordained by (bishops lacking jurisdiction from a true pope) in the old rite but after the election of John 23, or were ordained illicitly by renegade or Old Catholic bishops, among them Lefebvre and Thuc. They were not officially questioned as able to function until the mid-1980s, when various laymen began to realize that they functioned invalidly without jurisdiction. Those leading Traditional groups, no matter how well intentioned they may be or may have been, ignored this information and/or derided those who insisted on its applicability in these times. While up to then the faithful availing themselves of their services may have been unaware of these laws of the Church based on Divine law, they were obligated to study this matter and ultimately to leave these men if they became convinced of the necessity of jurisdiction, even if their priests refused to consider that it could apply to them.
By the mid-1980s, Trads were basically split into conservatives still attending the NO, SSPX adherents, material-formal believers, sedevacantists, conclavists and what is currently referred to as “homealoners.” The fact that these variations existed at all is the most convincing argument for the non-Catholicity of these groups. The Church has no variations of belief; She is one and unchanging. For many decades following the Reformation, the Anglican Church continued to insist it was Catholic as the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia relates. So also did the bishops who separated themselves from the Church following the definition of infallibility refer to themselves as Catholic — Old Catholics, Old Roman Catholics, Liberal Catholics and many shades inbetween. As the Scottish Bishop George Hay wrote in his work “The Sincere Christian” in the 1800s:
“[One invincibly ignorant] must sincerely use his best endeavors to know his duty, and particularly that he recommend that matter earnestly to Almighty God, and pray for light and direction. For whatever desire he may pretend of knowing the truth, if he do not use the proper means for finding it, it is manifest that his ignorance is not invincible but voluntary; for ignorance is only invincible when one has a sincere desire to know the truth with a full resolution to embrace it, but either has no possible means of knowing it or, after using his best endeavors to know it, yet cannot find it.” (Nor does a formal doubt excuse, for all are expected to resolve such doubts.) “A person brought up in a false faith, which the Scripture calls sects of perdition, doctrines of devils, perverse things, lies and hypocrisy; and who has heard of the true Church of Christ, which condemns all these sects, and sees the divisions and dissensions which they constantly have among themselves, has always before his eyes the most cogent reasons to doubt of the way he is in.”
The very fact that Traditionalists were divided on so many issues, no matter how much in agreement they pretend to be today, should have tipped off those who knew anything about the true Church. For either one or none had to be truly Catholic, since the Church tolerates absolutely no divisions among Her members.
Catholics believed they were with their true Mother when they were not. On learning that there was a possibility they were not following the laws and teachings of the Church, most failed to look into the matter. They did the unexplainable; they remained without first confirming that the faith they believed they were following was Catholic. While they had an excuse — the fact that their priests and lay leaders claimed to be qualified to do what they did — considering the grave nature of the matter, they were bound to investigate. Some did investigate and left Traditional groups, only to be deceived again, and again, by still other leaders. Sects multiplied, as they did at the time of the Protestant Reformation. Clearly these sects were schismatic, including those of the conclavists, who could never validly elect a true pope because no valid and licit priests and bishops were available to elect and be elected. And the situation has scarcely changed today. The false mother, which Apocalypse has styled as the whore of Babylon, leads Traditionalists today as surely as she leads Protestants and members of the Novus Ordo. Pope Pius IX quotes St. Cyprian on the dangers of schism:
“The enemy snatches human beings out of the very Church and while they think they have already drawn near to the light and escaped from the night of the world, he brings darkness over them once more in ways which they are unaware. Thus, although they do not observe Christ’s Gospels and His law, they call themselves Christians and judge that they possess the light while they walk in darkness, attracted and deceived by the adversary. For he transfigures himself like an angel of light, as the Apostle says, (2 Cor. 11:14) and disguises his ministers as ministers of justice who present night as day, ruin as salvation, hopelessness in the guise of hope, faithlessness under the pretext of faith, the antichrist with the title of ‘Christ.’ Thus while telling lies which resemble truths, they make vain the truth by their subtlety.”
Nothing describes Trad clerics and leaders better than this quotation. Disguised as angels of light, these men took it upon themselves to lead in Christ’s name, disobey and ignore His laws, without being either called or sent. Church law and teaching do not treat them kindly. The Church does, however, have regard for those who have continued to try to find their Mother, if they are of good will. And Our Lord, having sent this crisis to try and purify us, has proclaimed through His Vicar Pope Pius IX that He will not hold us responsible for continuing to try and find the faith in these times. For Pius IX teaches:
“Wherefore, not at all equal is the condition of those who, through the heavenly gift of faith, have adhered to the Catholic truth; and of those who, led by human opinions, follow a false religion. For those who have accepted the Faith, under the teaching power of the Church, can never have a just cause of changing or doubting that faith,” (DZ 1794). The denial of this teaching is condemned in the following Vatican Council Canon, (DZ 1815): “If anyone shall have said that the condition of the faithful and of those who have not yet come to the true faith is equal, so that Catholics can have a just cause of doubting the faith which they have accepted under the teaching power of the Church, by withholding assent until they have completed the scientific demonstration of the credibility and truth of their faith: let him be anathema.” (This is repeated in the 1949 letter “Suprema Haec Sacra.”)
The Vatican Council also teaches: “If anyone shall have said that no true mysteries properly so-called are contained in Divine revelation, but that all the dogmas of faith can be understood and proved from natural principles, through reason properly cultivated, let him be anathema.” Earlier, Innocent XI had condemned the Jansenist proposition that: “…an assent of Faith, at once supernatural and helpful to salvation, may coexist with a merely probable knowledge of revelation, and even with a fear that perhaps God has not really spoken,” (DZ 1171). Pope St. Pius X later condemned the same error, teaching that the assent of Faith cannot rest ultimately on “an aggregation of probabilities,” (DZ 2025). What has happened since V2 is precisely what the true Vatican Council condemned. All Trad leaders have tried to prove and understand the dogmas of faith based not on the wealth of Catholic law and infallible teaching, but a clumsily pieced together aggregation of probabilities. These probabilities are often taken out of context from various theological works, and do not even represent the cumulative conclusions of the pre-1959 theologians these priests quote. All have tried to use their reasoning abilities to lead others to the belief that Mass and Sacraments without jurisdiction are acceptable to God; also that aChurch without a true pope can obtain the same unity that Christ assigned only to His Church on the condition that She possessed true apostolicity. From the time of their childhood, nearly all Traditionalists today have followed the very “human opinions” of these Novus Ordo or Traditional priests, bishops and lay leaders. These leaders have very seldom if ever stressed the absolute necessity of Divine faith because they could not afford to do so; all of them today operate outside those Divine and infallible laws.
As adults, very few of those who are Traditionalists today accepted their faith under the teaching power of the Church, after reaching the age of 14. At best Traditionalists have entertained only a “probable knowledge of revelation,” quite often fearing that “perhaps God has not really spoken.” They have failed to gain true certainty in matters necessary to faith. Would they be right to “change or doubt” what faith they think they possess? Only if they could obtain certainty and demonstrate that the former way in which they understood their faith was erroneous, an insult to God, and explain that they exchanged it for belief in Divine truths they had not previously known or understood. And only if, while they did so, they fully believed in the One True Church with what faith they possessed, seeking only to better understand it and remove any errors in faith previously held, (DZ 1796, 1797).
The primary basis for all that Traditionalists believe, after sorting out the welter of theological opinions tossed around by Traditional “experts,” amounts only to “an aggregation of probabilities.” Only much of what they claim as probabilities are not even probable enough to produce certitude; they cannot offer five or six opinions from approved theologians to justify their beliefs. To truly qualify as a Catholic in good faith, Bp. Hay says, one “must sincerely use his best endeavors to know his duty, and particularly that he recommend that matter earnestly to Almighty God, and pray for light and direction. For whatever desire he may pretend of knowing the truth, if he does not use the proper means for finding it, it is manifest that his ignorance is not invincible but voluntary; for ignorance is only invincible when one has a sincere desire to know the truth with a full resolution to embrace it, but either has no possible means of knowing it or, after using his best endeavors to know it, yet cannot find it.” If Traditionalists have not made this effort to the best of their individual ability, (and only a valid and licit bishop, or canonically elected pope could determine this), they cannot claim invincible ignorance where matters of Divine faith are concerned. One who has made such an effort would be described as Rev. Gury describes such individuals: “who, although doubting, has endeavored to learn the truth so far as he was able but has not yet reached it.”
The “teaching power of the Church” mentioned by the Council refers to proper jurisdiction, since it is part and parcel of it. This can only mean under the supervision and direction of valid and licit hierarchy, including a true Pope. We know that the hierarchy exists, but we are deprived of their direction at this particular time. And it is not enough to simply study those things that the Popes, Cardinals and bishops have written in the past, for the magisterium was constituted by Christ as a perpetual, living entity; it must continue into our own time. Common error cannot apply, because common ignorance, not common error, is what prevailed prior to and throughout the reign of John 23. Today, any trace of common error has been dispelled, anyway. So most Traditionalists today, then, never accepted the faith as adults under the teaching power of the Church. As a result, they do have a just cause for questioning and doubting what these self-appointed clerics propose to them as the faith, who are not their lawful pastors. While such doubts may exist, they must endeavor to do all in their power to arrive at the truth if they are to be held blameless in virtue of their invincible ignorance. It is assumed that they possess membership in the Church by way of desire, having lost it at least materially until the location the of the hierarchy.
Our gentleman in search of his mother, if he indeed believes he has found her, needs only have DNA tests run to determine if this is truly the case. The DNA of the Catholic Church consists in the lineage of Her hierarchy, which must be able to be traced without any interruption straight back to the apostles. This interruption, as Canon Law, the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia, the popes throughout history and the unanimous opinion of theologians testifies, must encompass both validity AND licitity, (see the topic Are Schismatic Clergy and Laymen Successors of the Apostles?). Unfortunately, we cannot locate the hierarchy at this time, but we do have a wealth of papal and conciliar teaching, Canon Law, theological treatises and other works at our disposal, approved by the proper authorities, to guide us; our “family history” so to speak. But it is much more than that. It is the Divine guarantee that the society Christ founded at the command of His Father continues until the consummation, and the manner in which it must continue. “As the Father has sent me, I also send you,” He told His Apostles. Only the successors of the Apostles, valid and licit bishops, have this Divine sending power, and only a true Pope can activate that power.
Those pretending to have the ability to present the genuine article that is the One, True Church of all time, are as St. Cyprian described: “They call themselves Christians and judge that they possess the light while they walk in darkness.” We must obey God, not men, and He has told us in Holy Scripture as well as through His vicars that without the necessary lineage, these priests and bishops have no right to speak for the Church. Regardless of how loudly they may proclaim they are Christian or Catholic, without that uninterrupted lineage in hand, we have grave doubts that they have come to us as the ambassadors of Our Lord and His Apostles and truly represent Our Mother the Church. And without this assurance, we can only continue the search for this Mother, whom Christ has promised will exist even in our day. Some berate us for not believing that their priests and bishops are lawful pastors; others scoff at our belief in the certain existence of true hierarchy. But we accept their existence on faith, believing with the Holy Scriptures that this faith is the certain belief in those things Jesus promised, but which may remain unseen. So is there any possibility we will someday be able to visualize the hierarchy of the Church once again?
Nothing is impossible with God. The same God who placed these men out of our reach when the false Vatican II council began can just as easily make them available to us once again. A recent secular event proves that man does not know everything about his world despite the advent of modern technology. One group of animal researchers who worked for decades to track and obtain additional data concerning a certain species of gorilla believed this species to be extinct until only recently. Even though they had searched the world over for evidence that these animals yet existed, they had neglected to search in one specific place where it was believed the gorillas would not ordinarily reside. Nevertheless, they discovered a colony of 125,000 gorillas in an isolated swampland, gorillas who, it is believed, had never even seen humans.
The researchers who found the gorillas never knew for a fact that they would ever find these “extinct” animals, and yet they did. And they certainly never had God’s infallible promise that they actually did exist, and would exist until of the end of time; that is, until the world is consumed by fire. But we do have that faithful and true promise that the Church will always exist and know that God cannot deceive nor be deceived. We also know that despite the failure of our senses to presently discern the existence of the hierarchy, Faith, as St. Paul tells us, is belief in things unseen. If all was easily discernible and readily ascertainable, Faith would have no meaning, and the great miracles and mysteries would be rejected. God has chosen to reserve to Himself the location of the hierarchy until He sees fit to reveal them, and until then we cannot question His will nor question their existence. The scoffers can jeer as long as they please, but God is true to His promises.
Some commentators on the Apocalypse tell us that these bishops will go into hiding during the time of Antichrist, during the Church’s sojourn in the desert, (Apoc., Ch 12). St. Francis de Sales and Henry Cardinal Manning explain that this indefinite period is the only time when the Church will not be visible. We must remember that Antichrist and his persecution being what it is, if the identity of these bishops was generally known, their lives would be in danger. They know that the hierarchy must continue to exist, and know their obligation to preserve apostolic succession at all costs. Who are we to say that they should be among us, even at the risk of martyrdom, if there is no certitude that they can operate freely, without fear of death or imprisonment? It is their mission to restore the Church for all the faithful worldwide, not simply make Mass and Sacraments possible for a few. They could be men made bishops as infants or children behind the Iron Curtain by the bishops sent behind the Iron Curtain with special faculties during the reigns of Popes Pius XI and Pius XII. All these bishops were murdered, to the best of our knowledge, but couldn’t they have left successors behind? Wasn’t this the sole reason they were sent into these countries? Herod slaughtered the innocents, but Christ the High Priest and Pontiff escaped his cunning designs.
Rev. H. B. Kramer, in his “Book of Destiny,” explains that the clergy will not publicly surface during these times until after the physical chastisement has occurred. This makes sense, although it presents great hardships for the faithful. These bishops know, however, that God will take care of His own. These bishops and other clergy may be imprisoned, living incognito, moving from place to place, involved in the witness protection program, or even living as married persons, but somewhere we must believe they exist. When they do appear, they will have with them all the proofs necessary to convince us that they are genuine. Or, barring that, they will perform miracles to prove their mission, as St. Francis de Sales says would be necessary in the absence of these proofs, (“Catholic Controversy”).
The prophet Isaias refers to the fewness of those who will remain faithful to God in the latter days: “For it will be thus in the midst of the earth, in the midst of the people, as if a few olives that remain should be shaken out of the olive tree; or grapes, when the vintage is ended. These shall lift up their voices and shall give praise: when the Lord shall be glorified, they shall make a joyful noise from the sea. Therefore glorify ye the Lord in instruction, the name of the Lord God of Israel in the islands of the sea,” (Isa. 24: 13-15).
Rev. George Haydock says in his commentary on these verses that, “Towards the end of the world, iniquity will abound, and men shall rage against each other. They will also feel the effects of sin. They will be abandoned to their passions, excepting only the elect…Jerusalem will be in confusion…The few elect being rescued from the misery of the world shall praise God. They are exhorted to lift up their heads. The Church is like an island compared to the rest of the world. It preaches the Gospel to all nations…Apostolic men are required to preach incessantly to all sorts of people,” (Isaias 24: 13-16). This passage and Rev. Haydock’s commentary seems to indicate that the faithful, at some point, will be “rescued” and united to these bishops, who will then instruct them.
And so the Church has been prophesied, in several places, to continue until the consummation. It is up to those claiming to be Catholic to fulfill God’s will and make the prophecies a reality.
For a brief history of the crisis in the Church and the experience of others who have left Traditionalism see the For Beginners section of this site.