OBJECTIVE Truth Is One — Error is manifold: Part I
© Copyright 2010, T. Stanfill Benns (All emphasis within quotes is the author’s unless indicated otherwise.)
In the article regarding canonical precedents this author examined what constitutes the essence of truth in both law and Catholic teaching. Concerning those truths which emanate from the Roman Pontiff, normative papal documents and documents of both the ordinary and extraordinary magisterium were identified as objective truth. It would be tantamount to negating Christ’s establishment of the papacy and the papacy’s pre-eminence as the one Chair of Truth on earth to insinuate that anyone but the Roman Pontiff (or his designees), duly qualified and canonically elected could ever authoritatively determine the gist of Catholic truth.
We learn in Goffine’s commentary on the Gospel and Epistle for the fourth Sunday in Lent that in denying the divinity of Christ, the Jews and Gentiles alike in Christ’s time denied the reality of the Holy Trinity — God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost — by denying the divinity of one of its members. This can be done implicitly by rejecting the teachings of the continual magisterium and accepting instead the teachings and presumptions of mere men, not even in communion with the Roman Pontiff. Because those believing themselves to be the Catholic remnant follow such men — who as bishops have not truly “received the Holy Ghost” in valid and licit consecration, or as “popes” have not been duly endowed with Divine jurisdiction, the guarantee of infallibility imparted by the Holy Ghost — they essentially deny the need for and the existence of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity.
We have false authorities circulating documents today loudly proclaiming that “truth is one” without ever sufficiently defining the truth or presenting it integrally to their followers. These simplistic, disorganized and incomplete definitions have long left much to be desired. Those writing these essays have obscured the truths of faith to such an extent that their attempts have resulted only in confusion and the creation of more questions than answers. And yet this one truth must be defined only as the Church Herself defines it. Why do we say objective truth alone is one? Because Pope Pius XII himself said it, when writing on the subject of certainty where legal procedure is concerned.
“Now as the objective truth is one, so too moral certainty objectively determined can be but one.” In many of the arguments advanced for the “unity” of Traditionalists and the absolute integrity of their certainty about how they must determine the truth, the convenient fact neglected is that the desires and the sentimental longing for such unity (the alleged sensus catholicus Trads claim to possess) does not amount to objective truth, but something else entirely. For this reason it is necessary to examine at greater length Pope Pius XII’s comments on this matter and begin this discussion by defining various terms. By beginning at the beginning and proceeding in logical order it is hoped that this grave disservice to truth can be effectively remedied here.
Words and methods as a source of truth
“What is truth?” We ask this question here with Pontius Pilate in mind. Many who have posed it, and presumed to answer it, knew that their answers failed to take the manifest reality of that truth staring them in the face into account. Just as Christ stood visibly and unmistakably in Pontius Pilate’s line of vision, asserting He was truth itself, those today claiming to possess the truth saw it, they heard it, and yet their own self-importance and opinions overrode objective, external truth. They did not consider the objective truth and the moral certainty needed to determine such truth in their answers but preferred instead their idea of truth only, which is an entirely different thing. Hence they cannot arrive at objective truth, precisely because they did not proceed from formal certainty in the first place nor arrive at it in the second.
In his “ABC of Scholastic Philosophy,” Rev. A. C. Cotter explains that “We may understand a truth more fully and completely as we grow up, or a truth may come home to us on a special occasion…But that does not change the truth in itself, nor does it make our former cognition of it false…An individual…may lose his certitude and drift back or be forced back to doubt.” Cotter goes on to explain that certain types of certitude (subjective, practical, respective) can be true while they last, since they are based primarily on the human reasoning and judgment process. But only an infallible motive “can exclude the very possibility of error…Only that judgment is necessarily true which cannot err. Now only an infallible motive excludes the very possibility of error; every other motive, no matter how alluring or appealing, leaves the door open for error,” (pgs. 131, 142, 235-236).
Concerning the causes of error, Rev. Cotter writes: “Card. Newman says: ‘Inaccuracy is the besetting sin of all, of both young and old, learned and unlearned. We don’t know what we are talking about.’ This slovenly habit appears in the use of sentences, arguments, single words. Do we examine each of our statements as to its exact meaning? Do we see in what sense it is true and in what sense it might be false?…Or rather do we not prefer wide and vague half-truths, arbitrary and ambiguous definitions? More particularly, when arguing pro and con about anything, do we make sure of the precise point to be proved and of the soundness of the proof itself? Are we courageous enough…to abandon them if they contain a flaw?
“By far the most fruitful source of error is our careless use of words, or rather the vague notions we have of the meaning of words. How many people will talk on education, religion, progress, child labor, economics, dogma, evolution — without having first made absolutely sure (a) of the various meanings of the terms or (b) of the exact meaning which they attach to them in the present discussion.” This positive source of error was discussed at length in the article on the meaning of the word “apte” in Pope Pius XII’s “Six ans se sont,” also in the article The Mistranslation of ONE WORD… (See Archives) These two articles serve as solid examples of what malicious mischief may be caused by the disingenuous mistranslation of one word, whether that word can be found in the Consecration of the wine during the Novus Ordo falsification of the true Mass or a papal act of the ordinary magisterium.
In writing for the past 30 years and more, for both religious and secular publications, this author has labored consistently to better understand and express ideas and beliefs clearly; to lay out facts understandably and in their proper order. Writing and research, when taken seriously, is a discipline and as such cannot consist of making blanket statements, on one’s own authority and without referring to a set context of beliefs against which they may be measured. Understanding this context is essential to arriving at objective truth, and while many believe they have grasped it, closer examination shows, as Rev. Cotter explains, how far they really are from understanding it at all. Thus the importance of predicating all with definitions, as shall be seen below.
Terms, words and their meaning
Definition comprises an entire chapter in Cotter’s work, showing that it is truly something necessary to scholastic thought and application. There are two kinds of definition: nominal and real. Nominal definitions, Cotter states, “are used chiefly at the beginning of a disputation, to indicate what is the subject under dispute.” Nominal definitions can be demonstrated by distinguishing between the various meanings of an ambiguous term, giving synonyms or words better known, providing the etymology of a word, listing all the things it signifies, or appealing to what people usually mean when they use the word. “If a word has only one definite meaning, this is to be adhered to,” Cotter notes. “The most commonly accepted terms should be employed in their most commonly accepted meanings…Never employ a word to which you cannot apply a precise and clearly defined meaning. Where any doubt concerning a word exists, define carefully. This is not pedantry, but a sign of education.” Until the real definition is distinguished by debate, Cotter says, both definitions may be admitted in the beginning.
The laws of real definition are used later in the debate to describe the essential parts of a thing and special differences. It also sets out the things the object under discussion has in common with other things and any distinctive marks it possesses, including its properties, origin, cause and the logical accidents related to a certain subject. Real definitions must be brief and fit only the thing defined. They also must be clearer than the thing defined. Here we are concerned both with nominal definitions and real definitions. But as was proven in the article on canonical precedents, (under the board topic Free downloads) — and as Cotter himself later proves —the real definition can only an infallible motive for certitude as established by documents of the ordinary and extraordinary magisterium. Following are nominal and real definitions of terms in conformity to scholastic requirements.
Truth — “Truth means conformity, (i.e., one thing having the same form as another or being conformable to another); its opposite is difformity…Truth is conformity of the mind to reality, error [is] positive difformity. (Rev. A.C. Cotter, Rev. Pietro Parente, “Dictionary of Dogmatic Theology”). Donald Attwater, in his “A Catholic Dictionary” defines truth as (a) agreement between the mind and thing (logical); (b) agreement of the mind concerning the thing and the divine mind (ontological); (c) conformity of words or signs with the conscience, (moral). Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines truth as “agreement with reality or the facts of the case,” which is essentially the definition given by Rev. Cotter. Next we define reality.
Reality — Attwater says reality is “That which has or can have existence. Actual reality is that which exists; possible reality is that which can exist. Reality is distinct from mental being…which is in, or is wholly dependent on, the mind…” In his “Formal Logic,” Rev. Michael Mahony, S.J. says that reality is “scholasticism [based on logic] which accounts for the laws of thought…Because we discover through experience that reality which, independent of mind, is constituted according to those laws…antecedent of our knowing them…Scholasticism admits these laws are in the mind, but not of the mind. They are engendered in the mind by objective reality,” meaning that such truth comes form the mind and laws of God and His Church, not our own minds. Pope Pius XII taught that, “God has created and guides the human intellect that [the intellect] may build truth upon truth in the same order and structure as exists in reality.”
Fact— Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines reality as “fact” and then defines fact as “a deed, especially a criminal deed; anything true to be used as a basis for argument,” which returns us to the definition of truth.
Objective evidence — “Objective evidence may be defined as ‘the object manifest to the mind’…Manifest does not mean obvious, easily grasped or understood at once. What is obvious is, of course, evident, but a proposition may be evident without being obvious.” Cotter goes on to explain that something becomes manifest when light is shed on the subject and we truly understand it or see it for what it really is, although some truths are so obvious “only a fool will deny them.” He then continues: “Object may mean anything that the human intellect, without God’s special aid, may know…For object we may also substitute truth, i.e., ontological truth; for everything is ontologically true in the sense that it can be known (at least to some extent) and evidence refers to the object precisely in as far as it can be known…Only the mind judges, and the term objective evidence refers primarily to judgments…Objective evidence is the ultimate and universal motive of certitude.”
Manifest— The word manifest, Rev. Cotter explains, means “(a) a certain quality of the object [truth] which we may compare to the illumination which makes a material thing visible to the eye; (b) the act of the minds seeing or understanding the object (together with the consciousness of this act and its infallibility); (c) to the mind is added in the definition in order to exclude the senses…Strictly speaking, only the mind judges and the term objective evidence refers primarily to judgments…” A light, then, must go on in the mind to allow the individual to actually see the truth in question as it really exists, and the Church judges that it exists.
Evidence— “Objective evidence is “the object manifest to the mind…or the necessity of the object manifest to the mind. Here the word ‘object’ “may mean anything the human intellect, without God’s special aid, may know…For object, we may also substitute ‘truth,’ ontological truth; for everything is ontologically true in the sense that it can be known…We are only sure when a thing is evident to us. As long as a proposition is not evident, we ought not to give it an unhesitating assent.” Evidence is immediate if it can be known without demonstration, that is, without argument from certain and evident premises set out in correct form, (all Ibid, Rev. Cotter). This term also is defined by Canon Law and therefore is to be understood as the Church Herself understands and employs it.
Subjective (certitude) — To better understand the meaning of objective above we must contrast it with its opposite, subjective. We quote Rev. Cotter here from his above-mentioned work: “Purely subjective certitude is an assent or dissent which is indeed firm, but really should not be firm, as when our ancestors believed that the earth was flat…Purely subjective [certitude] does not rest on anything objective…Prejudice or stubbornness is the usual reason for purely subjective certitude. Practical certitude is an assent (or dissent) which is firm merely for practical reasons, viz. because otherwise life would be impossible. Thus we are practically certain the cook will not poison the soup,” (or in previous times, that the priest consecrating the Eucharist or hearing confessions did so validly).
“Respective certitude is an assent (or dissent) based on (motives) which are sufficient for certain minds, but not for all. Thus the child is convinced when his mother says no. FORMAL certitude is a firm assent (or dissent) which is necessarily true and known to be true. [It] is often called ‘objective’ because it corresponds with objective reality and because it rests on objective grounds …“Though every certitude is firm and unhesitating, yet neither purely subjective, nor practical nor respective certitude can be called necessarily true,” (pgs. 130-31, 234; all emph. Cotter’s).
Formal certitude — In reality the earth was not flat, the cook could poison the soup, the Sacrament might not be valid today or even in certain cases yesterday, and mother could be wrong in saying no. Even those since Vatican 2 who have written on certitude have not made these distinctions as they ought and therefore themselves mistook and caused others to mistake subjective, practical and respective certitude for formal certitude. They then proceeded to make decisions on extremely serious matters based on this misapprehension, when 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).
Both direct and reflex certitude are formal, direct certitude being knowledge of something from research and reflection; reflex certitude being the acceptance of some truth as pertaining to oneself on the reliable authority of others. Certitude may be either mathematical (conforming to the laws and truths of mathematics) or non-mathematical; necessary or free. Necessary means certitude based on a motive which makes all doubt impossible. Free is simply another term for moral certitude, which does not exclude imprudent doubt. “Formal certitude is a firm assent (or dissent) based on motives which are in themselves infallible and are known to be infallible…Now only an infallible motive excludes the very possibility of error…Therefore only an infallible motive is a sufficient guarantee for the (logical) truth of a judgment…A guide is not called infallible because there is no special reason for doubting his knowledge or because it is highly improbable he will lead us astray…We call a motive or reason for judging infallible only when it cannot lead us into error,” (Cotter).
Nominal Definitions taken form Scholastic theology itself are of a higher order than other definitions, since scholasticism has been defined specifically by the ordinary magisterium as the only basis for determining reality and arriving at the truth.
Pope Pius XII on moral certitude
Speaking primarily of marriage cases in 1942, Pope Pius XII directs judges to develop at least moral certainty in these cases, based as they are on the cumulative facts available to be judged. “This certitude is understood to be objective, that is, based on objective motives… Absolute certainty, however, is not necessary to pronounce the judgment. (Rev. Cotter says cumulative argument works only when there is no collusion among witnesses and single items are independent of each other; also all items must point to the same fact as their explanation.) But Pius XII explains to judges that they cannot ignore those “well-defined rules of inquiry and proof,” that “well-balanced juridical formalism,” which only confirms moral certainty. He urges them to consult the lawgiver wherever anything contrary to equity is concerned, so that juridical formalism does not ever interfere with justice.
The pope points out that procedural law, then, can never be at odds with moral certainty, and that if this appears to be the case, then “a further and more accurate examination of the case is required.” Moral certainty has its degrees, and even though the law requires it, Pius says, a higher degree of certainty “except where the law prescribes it, especially in certain cases,” is not necessary. But he points out that even when the law does not require it, it may be wise for the judge to “not be satisfied with a low degree of certitude, especially in cases of great importance.” As long as that “grade of certitude is attained which corresponds to the requirements of law and the importance of the case,” this is sufficient, (Canon Law Digest Vol. III, Can. 1869; AAS 34-338; emph. mine). This document is a statement issuing from the ordinary magisterium, and “Humani Generis” states all binding documents can be found in the Acta Apostolica Sedis, (AAS).
The importance of the case determines how it must be handled and the degree of certitude necessary to properly judge it. Here we must remember that a judge deals with persons and proofs — evidence — that is not as compelling, nor convincing, as that evidence that can be produced from unimpeachable sources when dealing mainly with matters of dogma. A judge may not come across an irrefutable papal document (Canons 1812, 1816. 1819) that is unable to be questioned in ecclesiastical court, but many such documents may be produced in the course of a strictly theological presentation. The primary consideration should be: how important is the necessity of the papacy to the Church, the necessity of the priesthood and episcopacy, of the availability of Mass and Sacraments? It is clear these questions are all of the utmost importance and in fact must exist absolutely for the Church itself to exist. Is it wrong, then, to conclude that in these cases, if it can be had, absolute certitude alone will suffice?
Traditionalists rely on a false certitude
In the Baltimore Catechism once used by seminarians, #554, we find: “A person who denies even one article of Faith could not be a Catholic. For truth is one, and we must accept it whole and entire, or not at all,” and “Whosoever shall keep the whole law but offend in one point is become guilty of all.” This has always been the teaching of the Church. Where Traditionalists depart from this teaching is in believing that they may base their beliefs and practices on transient teachings of the Church in times past, later abrogated or condemned by the Roman Pontiffs as dangerous to the faith or no longer suited to the prevailing circumstances. In using these past laws and practices as in “case law” — which is the practice of civil law, not the application Canon Law — Traditionalists rely only on the opinions and practices of humans, not on the decisions of the Supreme Pontiff, assisted by the Holy Ghost.
They thereby fall into a previously condemned error known, ironically, as “Traditionalism.” A one-sentence heading in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia defines Traditionalism as: “A philosophical system which makes tradition the supreme criterion and rule of certitude.” The French priest Lammenais proposed this system, condemned by the Church as false doctrine. He insisted on the necessity of human tradition, which should hand down the elements of an initial revelation by God. According to Lammenais, “We can only be sure of what all men agree upon — not precisely because they all agree on it, but because this agreement is due to divine revelation vouchsafed to our first parents in paradise and handed on from generation to generation,” Rev. Cotter’s “ABC…”).
Tradtionalism basically taught that it is faith that produces reason, and man cannot know with any certainty basic truths of the natural, moral and religious order. While universal assent can be a powerful motive for belief in certain cases, the Catholic Encyclopedia notes that, “it can never be the supreme criterion and rule of truth.” Even if all true Catholics supported Traditionalist thought today without reservation, which they do not, it still would not mean it was necessarily true simply because they supported it. If the certitude causing them to support such beliefs is less than formal, and we know that it is, it is not necessarily true. The human tradition they refer to, even if it remotely originates from God, cannot be used as any real measure of the truth.
As Rev. Cotter says: “Though every certitude is firm and unhesitating, yet neither purely subjective, nor practical nor respective certitude can be called necessarily true.” Certain types of certitude (subjective, practical, respective) can be true while they last, since they are based primarily on the reasoning and judgment process of humans. The assent given by Traditionalists was an assent based on human tradition which is indeed firm, yet should not be firm. It may have been true while it lasted but was long ago disproven. Theology has been made a complex science when in all reality it should not be anything of the sort.
Where understanding may fail, obedience to the continual magisterium fills in any perceived gap. To believe otherwise is to circumvent the Church and the authority of the papacy as established by Jesus Christ. Unlike the mother of the child used as an example in respective certitude, or certitude based on the say-so of a lesser authority, the popes speaking in their ordinary magisterium as they have on so many subjects is not just any guide, but instead is an infallible guide, which must be obeyed if one is to remain Catholic. The papacy is a continual and living entity and must be taken as a whole, not parceled off as one pleases. The continual magisterium is the repository of integral truth, which coming directly from the Holy Ghost is as indivisible as the Trinity Itself.
As stated in the opening paragraph of this article, to deny one person of the Blessed Trinity is to deny all; for the truth of the Divine Godhead is necessarily indivisible. And that truth concerning the very nature and person of God Himself mirrors all other truth, which, taken piecemeal and apart from its other indispensable components, cannot of itself exist. This is true, also, of the Four Marks of the Church, as Pope Pius IX infallibly defined in DZ 1867: “The true Church of Jesus Christ is constituted by Divine authority and is known by four notes. We lay down these notes as matters of faith in the Creed. And any one of these notes is so joined to the others that it cannot be separated from them…Therefore the Catholic Church is one by a conspicuous and perfect unity of the whole world and of all peoples, by that unity indeed whose principle, root, and never-failing source is in the supreme authority and ‘greater sovereignty’ of St. Peter …and of his successors…” (1864 letter to the Bishops of England from the Holy Office on the dangers of reunionism).
It is NOT one, then, according to the condemned idea that traditions handed down by our first parents but never endorsed as such by the supreme magisterium, could be held as Divine and pre-eminent. Deny as a “Catholic” that St. Peter and his successors receive from the Holy Ghost the power to infallibly dictate to us what we shall do and believe and how this should be done, and the power of the Holy Ghost Himself, sent by Christ to guide the Church in His absence, is likewise defamed.
We continually hear these days how America must “wake up,” how she must arise from the lethargy of sleep to save what can yet be saved. This is true to a much greater extent of Traditionalists, who still believe the world is flat and mother is infallible. They choose not to know or understand the very constitution of their own Church, but believe only in the description and interpretation of that constitution provided to them by those “authorities” they accept. They think themselves safe with these blind guides who appoint themselves as mini-popes and claim the guidance of the Holy Ghost, contrary to all teaching of the Church. Sadly enough, they are only too happy to leave their tired brains on the nightstand and follow along robotically in the dark. These Traditionalist authorities are not the witnesses Rev. Cotter demands, witnesses who must be censured “if they lie or even err,” and certainly not witnesses in the strict sense, since these were “officially or authoritatively constituted to act as witnesses” by Christ, as were the Apostles. Certainly these false witnesses, many of whom cannot even follow the truths of faith themselves and have pertinaciously erred in teaching them to others, cannot be any measure of objective truth.
As Cotter states: “Authority clothed with the necessary conditions is true authority… Authority is not the last criterion of truth or motive for certitude.” Traditionalist authority has been demonstrated as existing in perpetual violation of papal teaching. And no manner of pretended return at this late date to obedience to the Roman Pontiff under their direction can possible remedy this situation, since the truth is not in them. Once again, under the heading of Traditionalism in the Catholic Encyclopedia, we find that these first traditionalists embodied the essence of their modern-day counterparts. “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 comment on authority, echoing that of Rev. Cotter above, has as its source the same great mind: St. Thomas Aquinas. It is the definitive answer to all those who insist on following men who cannot prove from infallible teaching that they possess an apostolic mandate to teach and govern. With the mounds of evidence available to all concerning papal infallibility and its logical consequences, one can come only to the conclusion that no reasonable men remain among Traditionalists. And precisely because they have abandoned reason, they have become the prey of false christs and prophets. The manner in which these imposters continue to deceive the elect as was prophesied long ago, and the methods they use today, need to be fully appreciated.