© Copyright 2009; revised 2022, T. Stanfill Benns (All emphasis withiin quotes added by the author.)
One of the questions most commonly asked is posed in the title above. Since the contention of the articles featured on this site is that currently there are no valid and licit bishops available to grant an imprimatur, it is our belief that at present it is impossible to obtain one. And yet the obligation to defend the faith does not, for that reason, cease to exist. If we have the necessary tools to defend it, and the ability to defend it; unless we are prevented by persecution or some other violent assault, and especially if we have full liberty of speech and access to the means to defend it, we would be sorry Catholics indeed if we failed to defend our Faith and thereby became guilty owing to silence. Silence gives consent to the evil done. Unless we wish to be suspect of heresy, we must do it if we are able. Below please find the teachings of the Roman Pontiffs, a great Saint and Canon Law on the obligation of defending the Faith.
Pope Pius IX: “And so, fulfilling the obligation of Our supreme pastoral office, by the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, We beseech all the faithful of Christ, but especially those who have charge of, or who perform the duty of teaching, and in fact by the authority of Our same God and Savior, We command that they bring their zeal and labor to arrest and banish these errors from Holy Church, to extend the light of a most pure faith,” (DZ 1819, Vatican Council).
Pope Leo XIII: “We declare it to be very profitable and consistent with the requirements of the time, that each one, according to the measure of his capacity and intelligence should make a deep study of Christian doctrine and imbue his mind with as perfect a knowledge as may be of those matters that are interwoven with religion and lie within the range of reason…The suppliant and humble entreaty of the Apostles ought constantly be addressed to God: ‘Increase our faith.’
“When necessity compels, not only those who are invested with power of rule are bound to safeguard the integrity of faith, but as St. Thomas maintains: ‘Each one is under obligation to show forth his faith, either to instruct and encourage others of the faithful or to repel the attacks of unbelievers.’ To recoil before an enemy, or to keep silence when from all sides such clamors are raised against truth is the part of a man either devoid of character or who entertains doubt as to the truth of what he professes to believe. In both cases such mode of behaving is base and is insulting to God…The chief elements of this duty consist in professing openly and unflinchingly the Catholic doctrine and in propagating it to the utmost of our power.” (Sapientiae Christianae).
Pope St. Pius X: Catholic Action consists in acting in the face of the world in conformity with the faith which we profess, so that the majesty of God may be respected and His Divine laws obeyed. Catholic Action consists especially in affirming the rights of Jesus Christ who is truly Our King. Because Jesus Christ is represented by His Church, Catholic Action consists in being affectionate children of this perfect society, which does not depend on other powers for the right to live and exercise Her ministry, because She has all power from God… Catholic Action is directed toward the defense of and revindication of the rights of the Roman Pontiff, who is to the Church of Jesus Christ what the head is to the body, what the foundation is to the building, for where the Pope is there is the Church. The more open the war against the Pope, the more active, the more resolute should Catholic Action be in defending and maintaining the inviolable rights of the Sovereign Pontiff.. ” (Restoring All Things: A Guide to Catholic Action, by John Fitzsimons and Paul McGuire, Sheed and Ward, 1938.
Pope Pius XII: “The initiative of the lay apostolate is perfectly justified even without a prior explicit ‘mission’ from the hierarchy…Personal initiative plays a great part in protecting the faith and Catholic life, especially in countries where contacts with the hierarchy are difficult or practically impossible. In such circumstances, the Christians upon whom this task falls must, with God’s grace, assume all their responsibilities… Even so, nothing can be undertaken against the explicit or implicit will of the Church, or contrary in any way to the rules of faith or morals, or ecclesiastical discipline,” (“The Mission of Catholic Women,” Sept. 29, 1957, The Pope Speaks, Vol. IV).
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, to Geoffrey of Loroux, a celebrated scholar: “It is…a glorious thing to be in a position to render service to God, but it is also a most dangerous thing to possess that power and not to use it. Now you certainly have all the qualifications necessary in a champion of the Church; you have favor with God and men, you have the necessary knowledge, you have the spirit of liberty, you have the ‘living and efficacious word,’ (Heb. 4:12). Consequently, being a ‘friend of the bridegroom’ (John 3:29), you are bound to do all you can for His Bride in this Her hour of need. Necessity is the only true test of friendship. What? Can you have the conscience to repose at ease, whilst your mother, the Church is being violently assaulted? There is a time for repose; heretofore the occupations that belong to holy leisure could be lawfully and freely indulged in, But now, ‘it is the time for doing, O Lord, because they have dissipated Thy law.’ (Psalms 118: 126)…Why do you remain so inactive? How long will you slumber in false security…? …You must devote yourself to the active defense of peace and to the humiliating and confounding of its foes…Do not begrudge the sacrifice of your leisure, which shall be compensated with no small addition to your glory…” (Ailbe J. Luddy, O. Cistercian, Life and Teaching of St. Bernard, 1950. It should be noted here that the man to whom this is addressed was, at the time of receiving St. Bernard’s letter, in danger of following the antipope Anacletus II.)
Can. 1325: “Any baptized person who, while retaining the name of Christian, obstinately denies or doubts any of the truths proposed for belief by the divine and Catholic faith is a heretic…The faithful are bound to profess their faith publicly whenever silence, subterfuge or their manner of acting would otherwise entail an implicit denial of their faith, a contempt of religion, an insult to God, or scandal to their neighbor…”
Can. 1935: “Any of the faithful may at all times denounce the offense of another for the purpose of demanding satisfaction…or out of zeal for justice to repair some scandal or evil. Even an obligation to denounce an offender exists whenever one is obliged to do so either by law or by special legitimate precept, or by the natural law in view of the danger to faith or religion, or other imminent public evil.”
Observance of Can. 1385 contrary to faith
Canon 1385 forbids Catholics to publish anything on their own without the permission of the bishop. But Rev. Dominic Prummer says in his Manual of Moral Theology that if a person finds it completely impossible to observe a law, then absolute impossibility excuses from the observance of the law. Moral impossibility does not excuse from the observance of natural law, but it usually excuses from positive law with the exception of invalidating laws. Moral impossibility makes an act so difficult that the majority of men would never or only rarely perform such an act… [When] the law becomes detrimental to the common good and thus ceases to be law this is embodied in the well-known principle ‘no positive law obliges when there is grave inconvenience’ and applies also to divine positive law” (no. 107, 108). The canonist Rev. P.J. Lyddon, in his Ready Answers in Canon Law (1937) says that when doubtful Church laws “do not bind, we act as if they did not exist until the legislator explains them” (Can. 15).
But it is more the case, in this situation, not even of moral impossibility but of absolute physical impossibility. And as Revs. McHugh and Callan teach in their work on Moral Theology, “Physical impossibility is the lack of power to perform an act; for example, it is physically impossible for a blind man to read. This kind of impossibility, of course, excuses from guilt and punishment.” It is also physically impossible for any Catholic today to consult a certainly valid bishop wielding lawful authority to request an imprimatur. This does not mean that one can write indiscriminately on matters of faith, but in doubt as to what should be done we offer the following:
“In doubt, a minimum certain obligation only is to be exacted.” (Bernard Wuellner, S.J., Summary of Scholastic Principles ,1956). In the matter of Can. 1385 and its obvious cessation, the minimum certain obligation has been fulfilled: Recourse primarily to the teachings and laws of the Church Herself and when helpful for purposes of explanation, recourse also to those authors already approved by the Church.
We are fighting for our spiritual lives here, the survival of what is left of the Church and the right to practice our religion without molestation and to defend the Deposit of Faith. Those who insist that Canon Law forbids us to write in these times must necessarily deny the following:
- The necessity of apostolicity of doctrine
- The authority of the popes to define how this doctrine will be perpetuated in the absence of the hierarchy
- The principles of law regarding moral and physical impossibility as explained by the canonists and moral theologians
- The right to the necessary just means to accomplish our salvation and defend against unjust assailants.
- The strict obligation to inform our conscience and follow it according to “the best living authorities and the best traditions” available.
- In order to diligently form a right conscience, one must be able to ascertain facts, prove guilt in a given case and prove invalidity when validity is questioned.
- All the circumstances must be considered in each case.
- One is forbidden to remain silent in the face of a denial of faith, contempt for religion and scandal to the neighbor, particularly when such a wholesale denial is presenting as Catholic and suppresses the knowledge of truth.
- Silence gives consent. “It is a vice, by keeping quiet, to allow someone unworthy or unfit to be chosen for promotions and honors, or permit someone worthy to lose his dignity, goods or honor… The same can be said if, in meetings of the council, you keep quiet out of ignorance or malice and thus withhold the truth from the other advisers. Likewise, during a court hearing, if you see someone make a fraudulent accusation or be unjustly condemned, you will sin. And if you fail to reprehend the detractors in conversations defaming others by neither excusing nor praising the person defamed, you will sin by remaining silent. Likewise, when you perceive that a word to edify, instruct, exhort or correct someone is necessary, you commit a sin if you withhold that wholesome advice. Hence Isaiah exclaimed: ‘Woe is me, because I have held my peace’ (6:5). The same is said in Ecclesiasticus: ‘And refrain not to speak in the time of salvation’ (4:28)” (Vincent of Beauvais,13th century Dominican theologian, Speculum Majus).
- The obligation to aid our neighbor in extreme spiritual necessity.
- The longstanding papal command to supply for the absence of the hierarchy by engaging in Catholic Action and the catechetical apostolate.
- The duty to defend the Church according to one’s talents and abilities.
- The duty to avoid the heresy of quietism, which teaches: “…the desire to do anything actively is offensive to God and hence one must abandon oneself entirely to God and thereafter remain as a lifeless body” (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912).
Goffine’s Ecclesiastical Year, commentary on the eighth beatitude, “Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven,” we read: “Those suffer persecution for justice sake who by their words, writings, or by their life defend the truth, the faith, and Christian virtues; who cling firmly to God, and permit nothing to turn them from the duties of the Christian profession, from the practice of their holyreligion, but on its account suffer hatred, contempt, disgrace, injury and injustice from the world. If they endure all this with patience and perseverance, even, like the saints, with joy, then they will become like saints and like them receive the heavenly crown. If we wish to be crowned with them, we must suffer with them: ‘And all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution,’ (1 Tim. 3:12). ”