© Copyright 2013, revised 2022; T. Stanfill Benns (All emphasis within quotes is the author’s unless indicated otherwise.)
Without a true pope, Traditionalists do not possess the Four Marks
Gallicanism, liberalism, modernism and other fatal “isms” have made so many inroads among the faithful and so few recognize the extent of the damage these heresies have inflicted that it is almost impossible for anyone to drive home the true devastation wrought by these false teachings. Yet if we begin at the beginning, as the Church instructed us to do, we cannot help but find our way back to the truth if we truly love God and honor His Church. Who was it, I ask, who Jesus called in the beginning and placed at the head of the others? We know the answer, and contained in that answer lies the solution to many of the problems we face today. A pope does not sit today on Peter’s throne and yet the words of the Continual Magisterium are eternal; they serve us as well today as they did when they first came from the mouths of Christ’s Vicars. Christ, His Apostles and His Vicars in their official teaching capacity alone were entrusted with the divine guarantee of truth. To search for it elsewhere is insanity.
Christ founded His Church on Peter the Rock, yet He Himself is its Head, and we are the members of His Mystical Body. This we learned in our grade school catechism. The Vatican Council decreed that the Church, as Christ constituted it, will last unto the consummation, interpreting Christ’s words in Scripture, yet anything involving men can fail. As long as a true pope exists, joined to Christ the Head and endowed with the charism of infallibility THAT Church cannot fail, but we know that a true pope does not exist today. Christ’s promise to St. Peter that His faith will never fail is Divine Revelation and is incapable of being broken. But if one of its conditions is lacking (a legitimately elected pope ruling the Church) the promise to uphold an entity when its head is not ruling concurrently with Christ does not apply, just as the terms of a contract do not apply if one of the stipulated conditions fail. The Church continues because Christ — who always was and always will be — is its Head. He will always remain with His Church, so that promise also is kept and indefectibility is maintained. But at present He rules it silently and alone, without the assistance of the juridic Church.
That Christ will remain with His Church “until the consummation” is a separate promise made by our Lord that many confuse with His guarantee of Peter’s faith (infallibility). Yes, the Church as Christ constituted it, will last until the consummation, for He will head it and succor it until the end and the teachings of His Vicars and ministers will never fail to be available to the faithful. But did He not also tell us “The Kingdom of God is within you,” and did He not promise us that “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there will I be in the midst of them”? How could He stand by these teachings which are not dependent on clergy for fulfillment if by “as He constituted [the Church]” meant, in the Vatican Council documents, that we would always have access to the hierarchy? Is Christ not greater than the Church He constituted? Does Divine Revelation not tell us that in the end times the sacrifice will cease and that the beast would be given power “to make war with the saints and overcome them”? (Apoc. 13:7). Did not Pope Paul IV define the abomination of desolation as an antipope usurping the papacy, if we but read and study the circumstances that surrounded the writing of his bull? (One of his cardinals was openly campaigning for the papacy and he suspected him of heresy. This is precisely the situation that existed with Roncalli, Montini).
In past vacancies of the Holy See, this promise of the Holy Ghost’s assistance to never err remained while its reality was temporarily suspended, for no one possesses infallibility in the absence of the Roman Pontiff. This Pope St. Pius X and Pope Pius XII both taught in their separate constitutions on papal elections. Should papal jurisdiction be assumed by the cardinals or others and usurped, these popes infallibly declare any of their attempted acts null and void. This is the best available proof that hierarchy in the absence of the pope does not possess infallibility or papal jurisdiction. The Church is at Her most vulnerable when the See is vacant and is most open to attack. For this reason, Pope Pius XII very clearly annulled any attempt to violate Church rights and papal laws or act in the stead of the pope in his absence by exercising jurisdiction accorded him by Christ. Popes throughout history have ordered cardinals to convene in conclave as quickly as possible and fill the See because they know the dangers any delay could pose. As we have experienced ourselves, even when there is no delay, the wolves can enter the sheep pen and decimate the flock.
While the cardinals pray for Divine assistance in electing a true pope, they only designate who he shall be; his jurisdiction and infallibility are received directly from Christ, provided the cardinals uphold all the rules of election and the one elected himself is a (validly) baptized Catholic in possession of the use of reason. Christ’s promise was bestowed only on St. Peter and his legitimate successors (Canons 109 and 219; DZ 570d). The visible Church could err and elect a false pope — antipopes have happened in the past so we know that this is possible. These men are human, and unless they abide by certain papal directives during the election, it is void. While no interregnum has ever lasted as long as the one we are experiencing now, this cannot and does not mean that Christ’s promise has failed. He is currently heading His Mystical Body and regardless of the length of the vacancy, the See will always be capable of occupancy, even if our Lord chooses to personally appoint another pope Himself or leave it vacant until the Second Coming. A promise is a promise; He can keep it any way He chooses. For the 1900 plus years Christ’s Vicars reigned on earth prior to Pope Pius XII’s death they never erred in deciding matters of faith or morals. And as noted above, Christ as Head of the Mystical Body will remain with His Church into the consummation.
In the past, certain Catholics remaining in the Novus Ordo church were given the grace to recognize that the men claiming to be its popes were not teaching Catholic doctrine. They wondered how it was possible that this could be when they believed and were told by their clergy that the Church can never be the Church minus the Roman Pontiff. They felt at a loss to offer any positive proofs of their imposture, because nothing concrete seemed to exist. But over time the evil deeds of these men became public and their heresies well known. Papal laws were discovered that deposed them from power automatically. Today there is every reason to judge them as antipopes who never succeeded St. Peter.
But the real challenge is to prove that without a true pope nothing that once was the visible Church can exist; no vestige of it can remain because the promise of infallibility and papal jurisdiction has been indefinitely suspended. Yet the Church Christ founded still continues in its members, and those members still may access all the graces necessary to salvation and save their souls. How do we know that the visible juridic Church cannot function in any way without its head? We know this from Christ Himself, as interpreted by the Vatican Council; the popes themselves and the catechisms approved by the Church. We know it from the writings of the theologians and canonists. And these are the only valid sources we may consult to determine what must be believed.
The Vatican Council affirmed that papal infallibility is “a tradition received from the beginning of faith,” (Henry Cardinal Manning in his The Vatican Decrees and Their Bearing on Civil Allegiance, 1875). Scripture and Tradition are the two sources of Divine Revelation. Therefore infallibility is a truth of Divine Faith. “It was a doctrine of Divine Faith before the Council and the denial of it was confined to a small school of writers,” Manning adds. Unless there is certitude concerning the legitimacy of a papal election and the qualifications of the one elected, infallibility and apostolic succession cannot be presumed as received because it is a matter concerning eternal salvation. No one may use a probable opinion in such matters, according to the teachings of Bd. Pope Innocent XI, (DZ 1151, 1153).
The Church, Rev. Thomas Kinkead teaches, as represented by the Four Marks, cannot exist without the presence of the three attributes: authority, infallibility and indefectibility. Of course authority is jurisdiction; Kinkead defines the authority of the Church as: “…the right and power which the Pope and the Bishops as the successors of the Apostles [have] to teach and govern the faithful.” Infallibility is the inability of the pope to err when teaching on matters of faith and morals. Indefectibility, Kinkead teaches is, “the Church will last forever and be infallible forever; it will always remain as Our Lord founded it and never change the doctrines He taught.” And naturally he teaches (Q. 520) that the Church “…cannot have the four marks without the three attributes…without [the attributes] the marks could not exist.” Pope Pius IX decreed that the absence of even ONE mark — especially that of apostolicity so glaringly absent today — would negate all the others (DZ 1686).
What power can Traditionalists claim to possess today? Where is their power of order when the jurisdiction necessary for their doubtfully valid bishops to confer tonsure is lacking, and they do not even bother to deny it is lacking? While it may be possible during the occupancy of the See for the faithful to request the Sacraments from schismatics and heretics, even vitandus (in danger of death), depending on circumstances, this does not include the request for and reception of the sacrament of Orders. The Church selects Her candidates for Orders according to very specific and discriminating criteria; the candidates do not request ordination for themselves. For, “Only clerics can obtain the power of either orders or jurisdiction,” (Can. 118) and there is no jurisdiction held by Traditionalists to create clerics.
The Council of Trent teaches, (Sess. 22, Ch. 16): “Furthermore, let no cleric who is a stranger, without commendatory letters from his ordinary, be admitted by any bishops to celebrate the divine mysteries and to administer the sacraments.” Even if it were allowed for men to seek ordination themselves, the bishops ordaining admit they have no jurisdiction except that supplied by Can. 2261 §1, nos. 2-3, which is NOT supplied for the reception of orders, since it is not a Sacrament necessary to salvation. So since the pope supplies this jurisdiction and he doesn’t exist, where is their power?! Despite any appeal to Can. 2261 §1 nos. 2 or 3 by Traditionalists claiming jurisdiction, the infallible decree of Pope Pius XII (Vacantis Apostolic Sedis) nullifies any “supplying” of jurisdiction during an interregnum.
These “bishops” never received an office or diocese by grant of a true pope per his papal mandate so cannot and do not exercise such power; they lack authority. We have no pope so there is no infallibility, except that of the Continual Magisterium from the past — for papal decrees are eternal. And if we wish to claim indefectibility, the Church must remain as our Lord founded it (with a canonically elected pope) and profess and teach all Her dogmas, so one could never embrace Traditionalists. While they falsely teach that they possess all the four marks and even at one time circulated a news publication by this name, they cannot gainsay Christ’s testimony throughout Holy Scripture, or the Continual Magisterium, however much they ignore these teachings and dispense themselves.
So if we examine the minimum requirements for the juridic Church to exist at all, it is not difficult to see that, from the outset, the requirements for Her existence among Traditionalists are woefully lacking. And the further we examine the finer details, the more apparent this becomes. In the next sections on the attributes that follow this piece, we will descend deeper and deeper into the proofs necessary to understand beyond any doubt that without a canonically elected pope, without certainly valid hierarchy, the juridical Church cannot possibly exist. Yet the Church Christ established on earth remains intact.