© Copyright 2013, T. Stanfill Benns (All emphasis within quotes is the author’s unless indicated otherwise.)
If readers have finished studying the Vatican Council documents and Cardinal Manning’s works they will have educated themselves sufficiently in the Church’s teachings on the popes’ primacy and infallibility. All that is left to understand is precisely how these documents command our assent, and that can be learned from reading the site article at /articles/a-catholics-course-of-study/traditionalist-heresies-and-errors/heresies-concerning-papal-authority/judging-their-infallible-nature-and-the-assent-they-are-due/ A few things concerning such assent, however, should be highlighted here.
Pope Pius XII states that the more serious the decision to be made, the higher the degree of formal certitude needs to be. There are three degrees of formal certitude: moral, physical and metaphysical, with metaphysical being the highest and moral the lowest. Metaphysical or absolute certitude is a firm assent based on an absolutely infallible motive. (The infallibility spoken of here, however, is only of the type found in natural truths, such as mathematics, physics, etc…). Physical certitude is a firm assent based on the known laws of science. Moral certitude is a firm assent based on infallible moral motives, although the perversity of man could render such a judgment false, (parents generally love their children, but this is not always true).
“It is evident that authority, whatever be the way or the agency in which it is presented to us, cannot of itself be the supreme criterion of or rule of certitude. For in order to be a rule of certitude, it must first be known as valid, competent and legitimate, and reason must have ascertained this before it is entitled to our assent,” (St. Thomas, I-II, Q. 11, a., 1).” This is where Traditionalists err, in failing to determine whether popes since the death of Pope Pius XII are “valid, competent and legitimate.” They neglect to exercise their God-given reason. St. Thomas, however, from the outset of his Summa, clearly separates theological science from physical sciences. “This science [of sacred doctrine] surpasses other speculative sciences…[for it] derives its certitude from the light of divine knowledge which cannot be misled…This science treats chiefly of those things which by their sublimity transcend human reason, while other sciences consider only those things which are within reason’s grasp…This science accepts its principles not from other sciences but immediately from God by revelation. Therefore it…makes use of [other sciences] as of the lesser, and as handmaidens,” (Summa, Pt. 1, Q. 1, “I answer that” and reply Obj. 2).
Papal teaching is the source of formal certitude in sacred theology, which alone is the basis of objective truth, and it is the integral truth of past pontiffs which today’s false clerics dismiss and disobey. If humility itself is truth, as St. Teresa of Avila tells us; and precisely because obedience to all papal decrees is necessary for Church membership and indispensible to humility, then without it, truth cannot exist. And (objective) truth alone, Christ teaches, will free us from the operation of error, to believe lies. In infallibility — the Church guaranteeing what God has revealed — lies the highest degree of formal certitude, and as Rev. Cotter teaches, there is no need for those not able to grasp all the finer principles all at once to fear they have not arrived at it. “I may be formally certain even though I do not know all about the subject…Who on earth knows all about any subject, or who knows all objections and can solve them?” But without supernatural faith, even formal certitude will not suffice. Faith is belief in things unseen, St. Paul tells us, and whoever is not able to see certain aspects of any teaching simply accepts whatever he does not know on the strength of revealed truth as presented by Christ’s Vicar. What could be simpler? (For a complete explanation of the various degrees of certitude see: /articles/a-catholics-course-of-study/traditionalist-heresies-and-errors/heresies-concerning-papal-authority/objective-truth-is-one-error-is-manifold-part-i/
Other points to ponder
In reading Cardinal Manning’s work on Vatican decrees and civil allegiance, it should be noted that the decision on papal infallibility retroactively made all previous ex cathedra acts infallible, even though they were as infallible then as now, (see pg. 14). Note that one of these mentioned as retroactively infallible is Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors, which some Traditionalists teach is not binding on Catholics.
Please also note the infallibility of disciplinary laws, long denied by Traditionalists and all other Gallicanist/Jansenist types, cited by Manning on p. 12, (quote in Latin from Nicholas I; “pro ecclesiastica disciplina”). This phrase is OMITTED in Denzinger’s (DZ 326), but there can be no doubt that such decrees are often infallible, given Pius IX’s teaching on this same matter in “Quae in patriarchatu”: “In fact, Venerable Brothers and beloved Sons, it is a question of recognizing the power (of this See), even over your churches, not merely in what pertains to faith, but also in what concerns discipline. He who would deny this is a heretic; he who recognizes this and obstinately refuses to obey is worthy of anathema.”
Finally we come to what Manning teaches concerning physical and moral impossibility. Physical impossibility means that the object itself is lacking, as in the Catholicity of the English monarchs and moral impossibility means that the power over such monarchs is actually present, which of course is no longer true concerning the popes’ temporal power. He says that it could nullify even infallible laws under certain conditions, but those conditions are lacking today. We may be physically and morally unable to elect a pope, but we are not physically and morally unable to obey Canon Law and papal law. We are not physically and morally prevented from preserving our faith in the manner prescribed by Pope Pius XII in Vacantis Apostolica Sedis and other documents. To contend this we would need to deny the infallibility of the entire Continual Magisterium up to and including Pius XII and deny that we are bound to obey the popes in matters of faith and morals. We also thereby would be denying indefectibility because if the obligation to obey Pope Pius XII and all his predecessors can be said to no longer exist, then the Church itself must no longer exist.
Catholics must finally realize that all we have left of our Church is what Christ said and did, and His Vicars after him have done and taught. The Vatican Council defined and we must believe that Peter’s faith, and that of all his successors, would never, could never fail, by virtue of Christ’s promises to His Church, as defined by the Vatican Council. So if we see that someone professing to be a successor of Peter preaches a doctrine different from all who went before him, we then know that such a man is not pope — for Christ’s promises will never fail. We also know that any “cardinals” and “bishops” following him, by virtue of Church teaching and practice and Pope Paul IV’s Bull Cum ex Apostolatus Officio, cannot be true bishops. For even if an angel preach a different doctrine, St. Paul said, we cannot and must not believe it. Therefore if we see that this is the case, we must flee. Christ guaranteed PETER’S faith, not that of the bishops. Peter alone was granted the charism of infallibility, the assistance of the Holy Ghost; the bishops are not even infallible as a body when they teach revealed doctrine unless they are united to the Supreme Pontiff.
As Rev. Madgett teaches, “The teaching Church is the episcopate united with the Roman Pontiff…[this] union must be required, because without the head, we have not the Apostolic College, or Teaching Church.” And as we have seen, this is based on infallible teaching itself. So when Traditionalists say that their bishops must exist, and yet they exist without the Supreme Pontiff and the mandate he must issue to canonically install them in office; when they say this must be the case because of the sede vacante, yet do not obey Canon Law or uphold papal teaching; when they say that not possessing such bishops violates Christ’s promises that the Church, as He constituted it, shall last until the confirmation, then they are teaching error. For Christ’s clear intent and purpose of this promise was that any bishops not united to St. Peter’s successors clearly are in schism, and cannot constitute the teaching Church.
This is reflected in the Church’s own definitions of Herself. In writing his 1945 papal election constitution, Pope Pius XII, using the fullness of his Supreme Authority, so bound those who would be left to elect a pope following his death that if they usurped the laws of papal jurisdiction in any way — and unless they followed the laws of the Church and protected Her rights in all things — then all their acts would be null and void. He thus guaranteed that they would never sully the robes of the Teaching Church with the stain of error, although they could appear to do so. In this he fulfilled his mission as the Protector of Faith. For if we cannot cleave to this Rock upon which Christ founded His Church, against which the gates of Hell will never prevail, then we will certainly perish in the tempestuous sea that is the world and all its evils, surging angrily at the foot of that Rock.