+Feast of Corpus Christi+

Help for those who feel scholastic teaching “is just too hard”

For those who may be bewildered by all the proofs offered on this site regarding the legitimacy of Traditionalist orders and jurisdiction, there may be an easier way to evaluate the current status of Traditionalist groups and arrive at a common sense estimation of their claims to possess apostolicity, or direct descent from the Apostles. But it will not vary from what has already been written; all Catholic teaching on this subject state that no individual can possess apostolicity unless he can prove that the Orders, he received are unquestionably valid and able to be exercised, and such proof has not been forthcoming. We are bound to accept the teachings of those approved authors who wrote prior to the death of the last true Pope, Pius XII; not those today commenting on what they wrote or interpreting it for readers. The condensed version of this teaching given below, by an approved author writing in 1910, concisely summarizes apostolic succession and apostolicity. But it is not just a more general and less complicated explanation that is required here; there are other considerations that must be taken into account, and these will follow Fr. Berry’s summary.

From Fr. E. S. Berry’s The Church of Christ:

“Apostolicity of origin and of doctrine: “[These] are easily understood without further explanation, but some knowledge of succession is necessary for a proper conception of apostolicity of ministry. Succession, as used in this connection, is the following of one person after another in an official position and may be either legitimate or illegitimate. Theologians call the one formal succession; the other, material. A material successor is one who assumes the official position of another contrary to the laws or constitution of the society in question. He may be called a successor in as much as he actually holds the position, but he has no authority, and his acts have no official value, even though he be ignorant of the illegal tenure of his office. A formal, or legitimate, successor not only succeeds to the place of his predecessor but also receives due authority to exercise the functions of his office with binding force in the society… The power of Orders may be obtained by fraud or conferred against the will of the Church by anyone having valid Orders himself, and therefore does not depend upon legitimate succession.

“Jurisdiction is authority to govern and must be transmitted in the Church as in any other society; it can be conferred only by a lawful superior, according to the constitution and laws of the society, and may be revoked at any time. Consequently, jurisdiction in the Church can neither be obtained nor held against the will of her supreme authority; its transmission depends entirely upon legitimate succession. It is not sufficient, therefore, that a church have valid Orders; it must also have a legitimate succession of ministers, reaching back in an unbroken line to the Apostles, upon whom our Lord conferred all authority to rule His Church… There can be no legitimate successor in the Church of Christ who has not received jurisdiction either directly or indirectly from her supreme authority. Christ has either failed in His promises, or the Church must ever preserve and teach all truths committed to her through the ministry of the Apostles. In other words, the Church must be Apostolic in her DOCTRINE even to the consummation of the world.

“Ministry: It is evident that there can be no authority in the Church save that which comes directly or indirectly from her Divine Founder, Jesus Christ. But there is not the slightest intimation in Scripture or tradition that Christ ever promised to confer authority directly upon the ministers of the Church; consequently, it can only be obtained by lawful succession from those upon whom Christ personally and directly conferred it, i. e., from the Apostles. In other words, the Church must be Apostolic in her ministry by means of a legitimate succession reaching back in an unbroken line to the Apostles. From Tradition. In controversies with the heretics of their age, the early Fathers always appealed to Apostolic succession as a proof for the true Church of Christ, and argued that heretical sects could not be the true Church for the simple reason that they lacked this succession.

“Apostolicity: Most of the Orthodox churches of the East have valid Orders, and to that extent may be called Apostolic; they have Apostolic succession of the powers of Orders. In some cases they may also have a material succession of bishops from Apostolic times, but this avails them nothing, since they lack both unity and Catholicity, two essential marks of the true Church. In no case do they have legitimate succession; there is no transmission of jurisdiction because they have withdrawn from communion with Rome, the centre and source of all jurisdiction.”

Dispositions of the inquirer

The above should be simple enough for the average reader to understand; it is not any more difficult than the instruction found in most high school catechisms. It repeats what has been said on this site over and over again — no pope, no hierarchy; no apostolic succession no valid authority to rule and govern. Many have complained that the scholastic approach is just too hard for them to puzzle out. But if even the above is confusing to certain readers and does not convince them of the truth, then a rational person must assume there is more going on here than meets the eye. The alleged inability to comprehend these things has much to do with the disposition of the reader, as the beloved Irish catechist, Fr. John Kearney, tells us in his Our Greatest Treasure: “The disposition which should be in the inquirer and which is called the disposition of Faith is a disposition of humility and docility, of willingness to submit to God’s word once there is reasonable evidence that God has spoken it… The dispositions of soul from which the Act of Faith proceeds can be attained only by cooperating with God’s special grace.”

When those who have participated in the Traditionalist movement for many years receive the first beginnings of this grace and begin to ask questions, they must keep one thing in mind: they have been members, for however long, of a non-Catholic religion. It may have great resemblance to the Catholic faith, just as Anglicanism and other schismatic sects evidence, but it is not that faith. They need to discover what the Catholic faith really teaches, from the mouths of Her popes, the ecumenical councils and Her laws, not what someone dressed up as a bishop or a priest SAYS She teaches. This point cannot be emphasized enough. So many Traditionalists are absolutely convinced they are wholly Catholic and believe all that the Catholic Church teaches and has ever taught. The problem with this belief is that unless this understanding of faith comes from the successors of those Christ Himself appointed, we have no guarantee whatsoever that this “faith” is pure and unadulterated. This is precisely why apostolic succession is so vitally important for Catholics. Doctrine, above all, must be apostolic and this supersedes any perceived right to participate in the Mass and receive the Sacraments.

There are numerous proofs presented on this site that show God and His Church have indeed spoken the things that are quoted in the available material, and this can be verified by consulting the sources cited. Nevertheless, when investigated, these proofs do not seem to satisfy inquirers, even when they are proofs that have always been taught and believed and demand assent from Catholics. Even after viewing these proofs, many still have difficulty processing and accepting Catholic truth and making the necessary distinctions. And it really has nothing to do with the difficulty of the topic. How many readers spend countless hours learning computer technology and new techniques to enhance performance, combing through technical manuals that seem incomprehensible to a large majority of the population, and manage to make sense of them? It is the WILL to understand that makes this possible, and maybe those who are exploring the “options” to Traditionalism lack this strength of will when it comes to their quest for the truth. This is only one of several reasons why the understanding may be impeded, and we will start with the Catholic reasons provide by Fr. Kearney.

Obstacles to obtaining grace

First of all, Kearney says, those approaching the true faith from a non-Catholic position (and this is how Traditionalists must look at it, as hard as that may seem to them) must be made aware of what could hamper their cooperation with the graces of faith. He separates these obstacles as those occurring in the mind, in the will and in the imagination. Kearney lists obstacles in the mind as:

1) Ignorance: This may be culpable or inculpable. Affected ignorance — which is pretending one cannot learn or understand something or does not know certain things when, in fact, this is not the case — is a form of self-deceit and as such is always culpable. “Affected (pretended) ignorance of either the law or its penalty only does not excuse from any penalties latae sententiae, even though the law contains terms… demanding full knowledge and deliberation…” (Can. 2229 §1 and §2). The canonists Woywod-Smith add that “Affected ignorance is never admitted as an excuse.”

2) A superficial mind: “The constant absence of serious thought makes the grasping of fundamental religious principles very difficult… The seed of the Word never penetrates the soul that is dissipated or superficial.”

Obstacles in the will include want of generosity in facing the sacrifices demanded. One convert explains how difficult it was for him to leave the Anglican Church because it was all he had ever known and all the people and things he had loved his entire life were there. This was a great trial for him, and he confesses that it was only by a miracle of grace on God’s part that he was able to overcome it. The second obstacle in the will is an impure life, which St. Augustine describes in his Confessions. This involves a “continual and deliberate rejection of the Divine Will” and “impedes the consideration of the Divine truths revealed by God.” Pride, especially intellectual pride, is the third obstacle, and this has two unfortunate consequences: 1) “The danger of being unwilling to admit our limitations and, in consequence, finding it hard to bow down the mind by the act of Faith, [which] easily leads to bad faith and 2) The difficulty of admitting that we have made a mistake, that we have been mistaken for years, while the Catholic child was right. A man finds it difficult to admit that he is beaten in an argument; he will not look straight at the adverse reasons.”

This last sentence is most telling because it is so often the reason that causes those who read the truth to reject it. Hear what Fr. Kearney quotes from John Henry Cardinal Newman concerning this particular affliction: “In spite of so much that is good in them, in spite of their sense of duty, their tenderness of conscience on many points, their benevolence, their uprightness, their generosity, they are under the dominion (I must say it) of a proud fiend; they have this stout spirit within them, they determine to be their own masters in matters of thought, about which they know so little; they consider their own reason better than anyone else; they will not admit that anyone comes from God who contradicts their own view of truth (Discourses to Mixed Congregations).” As one convert of old puts it: “In its splendid ideal, Catholicism appealed to my heart, but in its practical results it caused me to shrink from it; the logical coherence of its dogmas appealed to my intellect but its tone of authority caused me to rebel against it (A Modern Pilgrim’s Progress).”

“Pride easily leads to the loss of faith,” Fr. Kearney continues. “The loss of faith through pride appears especially in those who criticize the Church, who criticize Her laws, who criticize the actions and words of those appointed to speak and act in her name. Many lose the faith through this sin of criticizing. They make themselves the judges of the words of the Bride of Christ… It is easy to see that complacence in our own superiority — pride — is at the root of all these sins. The loss of faith through pride follows frequently from positive disregard of the laws of the Church… In all this it is our will that is wrong. We do not want to submit. Submission means accepting our inferiority, our dependence. Our pride resists this.” How dare Traditionalists criticize Pope Pius XII for his changes in the liturgy, or insinuate that Pope Pius IX was a liberal, even a Freemason as pope. Who are they to presume to interpret papal teachings against the mind of the Church and Her laws, which they do on a regular basis?

Father Kearney then moves on to obstacles in the imagination. Among those who are not ignorant and are sincere in their search for the truth, he notes, prejudice often clouds their efforts. “Prejudice, …a foregone judgment, is a disposition which leads to a judgment formed before sufficient attention has been given or references made to existing facts. It acts as an obstacle to the correct action of our mind in forming a judgment on one particular question. It acts like a brake on the movement of our reason… A man of one nation who is prejudiced against the men of another nation is no fair judge of them. Can any good come out of Nazareth?, asked Nathanael. He was prejudiced.  Prejudice is an infirmity, a weakness, and is usually due to false early training which made a deep impression on the memory and imagination… Our mind draws the essential material for its reflections from the storehouse of the memory and the imagination. And when these are filled with untrue impressions, which are numerous and deep regarding a particular point, it is very difficult for the mind to judge correctly on that one question.”

“Hence,” Kearney continues, “if these numerous and deep impressions kept in the memory and imagination are hostile to the [true] Catholic Church we can easily understand the great obstacles that they put in the way of the graces of conversion, which enlighten the mind and incline the will.” Of the three different obstacles, “[Prejudice] is the hardest to overcome,” Kearney observes. “That warp of the imagination is extremely difficult and involves great suffering. To cast it off seems like a martyrdom which wins the kingdom of Heaven. Some give way and never get the Faith. Hence the necessity of a very strong grace” [emph. Kearney’s]. All of what Fr. Kearney says is true of Novus Ordo “catholics” as well as Traditionalists, and each have a special additional obstacle to overcome.

Novus Ordo believers find it difficult to reconcile their idea of the modern world with the stark reality of a world where so many of the liberal ideas they have imbibed were previously condemned by the Church. They have great difficulty in giving up the idea of their church as a political and social force in the world, albeit an evil one; all the ancient churches spread throughout the world including the Vatican, and also all the pomp and splendor the Church exhibited in previous ages. They feel as though they are heirs who suddenly find themselves disinherited, left without even the bare necessities of the spiritual life. They are forced to forge an entirely new and bewildering conception of the true faith, one that often frightens them because it seems devoid of what they have been led to believe is God’s overriding mercy and love. Making the leap from their church to stay-at-home is especially trying because they must, in many cases, abandon all their social and even business contacts, not to mention giving up many family relationships. And in the spiritual wilderness where stay-at-home Catholics live there are no replacements for these social and familial amenities.

This is why most Novus Ordo members spend at least some time in the Traditional movement: they sense that they need what they feel is a rational transition between old and new. But if they are sincere in their search for the truth, it soon becomes clear that the Traditionalists are very much like the Protestants. Their constant divisions and the internal strife and drama among each of the many Traditionalist groups soon wears thin and the search begins again. Traditionalists have their own brand of prejudices to overcome, and this mainly applies to their disrespect for and indifference to the papacy. The papacy is a given for the Novus Ordo crowd, even if they left because of Francis’ unCatholic behavior and teaching. Not so for Traditionalists, who often seem to resent the idea of a Supreme Head and see it as an impediment to their Traditionalist outlook. Unaware they have espoused the heresies of the Gallicanists and Old Catholics, many believe that infallibility is a charism exercised only infrequently and obedience to papal directives is optional.

Even though many Traditionalists home-school their children, they deplore the self-educated among those who try to point out Traditionalists errors, dismissing them only as lay know-it-alls who have no authority. It never strikes them that they need to at least consider points raised regarding the authority of their so-called clerics, who in reality are only laymen themselves. These men never possessed such authority either, and even were the Church restored tomorrow, they would never be allowed to function as clerics.

Traditionalist sect leaders actively warn their members of the dangers of “homealone” and wave Mass and Sacraments over their head like a magic wand, pretending grace can be received only through their auspices. As a result, their followers develop an ingrained bias against the idea. They also genuinely fear they will lose the means of grace and like those in the Novus Ordo, their social and family contacts hold them back from making this commitment. A simple subjective study of the Church’s true teachings on this topic would ease their minds, but they are taught they are not capable of making any determinations themselves because they must accept only the interpretations of their leaders. The majority of Traditionalists also foster anti-Semitic prejudice, and this is a very big stumbling block for them. For if they can no longer blame the Jews for their predicament, they might have to consider the fact they are looking at the entire situation in a false light, and they are loathe to do this.

A very strong prejudice toward women who write against Traditionalism also exists, and this bias is fueled by the “priestly caste” and their defenders who are terrified they will be bested on some score by a mere woman. This has nothing to do with anti-feminism as they pretend, but with the entrenched belief among Traditionalists in general that the Church really does believe women are inferior to men and should not be allowed to study or write about theology. Of course if there were real Catholic men and valid clergy out there doing this there would be no need, but they choose to ignore this salient fact. (For the substantial intellectual and theological contributions rendered by Catholic women, see https://www.betrayedcatholics.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Chiefly-Among-Women.pdf).

There is yet another major obstacle hampering Catholic understanding of the faith, but this will be left for our next installment. The above is enough to give food for thought and perhaps will shed light for some on the real causes of those who just don’t seem to “get it.” Readers are encouraged to study Fr. Kearney’s entire work, available at: https://www.amazon.com/Our-Greatest-Treasure-True-Faith/dp/B010CA2HZI

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