It has come to my attention that many Traditionalists are under the impression they are not “allowed” to judge the teachings of the Roman Pontiffs, the Ecumenical Councils or approved theologians and must instead rely solely on whatever is fed to them by their so-called priests and bishops. Some may think these deluded souls can be excused owing to invincible ignorance, but unfortunately it seems most of them will not fall into that category.
Of all the theologians writing on invincible ignorance, the Scottish Bishop George Hay provides one of the best descriptions of this unfortunate state available. Hay is commended by Henry Cardinal Manning as “one of the most energetic and learned…Vicars Apostolic of Scotland in the last century,” (from Manning’s Miscellanies, 1870, “The Bishop of Rome.”). To quote Hay at length is not necessary. He states quite clearly in his The Sincere Christian that no one — not Turks, heathens or Jews; not sincere Protestants living where there are no Catholics and especially not non-Catholics living amongst Catholics (which describes Traditionalists with access to these and other articles, and most importantly, papal encyclicals) can plead invincible ignorance and expect to be saved. The reason is simple: God died for all men although all did not take advantage of the graces He made available to them, (Council of Trent, Sess. 6, Ch. 3). No one who is truly invincibly ignorant will be condemned for his ignorance per se, but the question is more complicated than just this one consideration.
“Although this invincible ignorance will certainly save a man from sin, in wanting that of which he is invincibly ignorant, yet it is plainly impossible and childish to suppose that this invincible ignorance in one point will make up for the want of all the other conditions required,” Hay wrote. Even validly baptized, sincere Protestant adults having no acquaintance with Catholics cannot retain their baptismal innocence without Confession and therefore cannot be saved unless they manage to make a Perfect Act of Contrition or its equivalent before death, Hay explains, (although their children dying before the age of reason can gain heaven). Owing to the absence of the Church today as a visible juridic Body, and the many deliberate obfuscations and misrepresentations of the faith by Her enemies, this author prays that God is more lenient in this regard than in the past, especially in certain cases. Nevertheless, Bp. Hay comments, “For invincible ignorance to exist, three things are necessarily required:
1) “That a person has a real and sincere desire of knowing the truth. For if he be cold and indifferent about an affair of so great concern as his eternal salvation; if he be careless whether he be in the right way or not; if being enslaved to this present life, he takes no care about the next, it is manifest that an ignorance arising from this disposition is a voluntary ignorance and therefore highly culpable in the sight of God…
2) “For one to be in invincible ignorance it is required that he be sincerely resolved to embrace the truth wherever he may find it and whatever it may cost him. For if he be not fully resolved to follow the will of God, wherever it shall appear to him, in all things necessary to salvation; if on the contrary, he be so disposed that he would rather neglect his duty and hazard his soul than correct an ill custom, or disoblige his friends, or expose himself to some temporal loss or disadvantage…Such a disposition must be highly displeasing to God and an ignorance arising from it can never excuse him before his Creator…(all emphasis in bold throughout this work is the author’s unless stated otherwise).
3) “He must sincerely use his best endeavors to know his duty, and particularly that he recommend that matter earnestly to Almighty God, and pray for light and direction.
For whatever desire he may pretend of knowing the truth, if he do not use the proper means for finding it, it is manifest that his ignorance is not invincible but voluntary; for ignorance is only invincible when one has a sincere desire to know the truth with a full resolution to embrace it, but either has no possible means of knowing it or, after using his best endeavors to know it, yet cannot find it.” (Nor does a formal doubt excuse, for all are expected to resolve such doubts.) “A person brought up in a false faith, which the Scripture calls sects of perdition, doctrines of devils, perverse things, lies and hypocrisy; and who has heard of the true Church of Christ, which condemns all these sects, and sees the divisions and dissensions which they constantly have among themselves, has always before his eyes the most cogent reasons to doubt of the way he is in.” And the dissension among Traditionalists who claim the name Catholic but deny truths of the Catholic faith should be a red flag for all.
Bp. Hay goes on to remind his readers that many are called and few are chosen, and that broad is the path to destruction and narrow is the way to salvation. When asked if he is saying that none who are in heresy and invincible ignorance can be saved, he answers, “God forbid that we should say so! All the above reasons only prove that if they live and die in that state they will not be saved…No man knows or can know what may have passed between God and the soul in his last minutes.” Many attempt to appeal to the various exceptions cited in Canon Law to justify their ignorance in matters of faith. But Canon Law does not generally excuse one from observing the law for reasons of ignorance, the general rule being “Ignorance of the law is no excuse…”
Those now in Traditionalists sects should be advised that Can. 16 tells us NO ONE can plead ignorance when it comes to invalidating and incapacitating laws. In other words, followers of Traditionalist “priests,” once the question has been raised concerning their validity or (even their liceity) cannot neglect or refuse to investigate the matter. The law clearly states that a mere doubt regarding sacramental validity or the validity of any given ordination or consecration is sufficient to absent themselves from all contact with Traditionalists. (This will be addressed fully in the next blog on epikeia.) Affected or pretended ignorance “is never admitted as an excuse from latae sentenetiaecensures” (Can. 2229), and this sort of ignorance is often the kind exhibited by Traditionalists. Referring to this canon, Abp. Amleto Cicognani writes under Can. 16: “In law, affected ignorance is held equivalent to fraud, so much so that it does not excuse from any penalty.” It should be further noted that grave fear does not exempt from latae sententiaepenalties either, whenever a specific act would constitute contempt of faith or of ecclesiastic authority, or public injury to souls (Can. 2229 §3).
Traditionalists are instructed by their “clergy” that they are to obey without question and cannot make any judgments regarding what they are “taught” by these men. They also are warned against even the casual reading of any literature that questions their leaders’ authority or the correctness of what they teach. This might have some traction were these men truly priests and bishops educated in papally approved Catholic seminaries, but we know this is not the case. As bishop Hay warns above, no one can claim even invincible ignorance if they do not make such inquiry and the necessary judgments that inquiry requires! Any sect operating on the premise that such inquiry is forbidden or even strongly discouraged is operating as a cult, not a sect.
Michael de la Bedoyere commented on this tendency to blind obedience in his Christianity in the Marketplace, noting that the training necessary to execute the high standards of Catholic existence was available to Catholics then (the 1940s), and by extension it is still available to Catholics today in all the papal documents online. Bedoyere nailed the real problem to the wall when he wrote: “What too often is lacking is the interest and training in APPLYING those standards and knowledge to every circumstance in life. The man of the world HAS to think for himself if he wants to act intelligently at all, for there is no one to think for him; THE CHRISTIAN IS IN DANGER OF NEVER THINKING FOR HIMSELF BECAUSE HE EXPECTS ALL HIS THINKING TO BE DONE FOR HIM…” (The ideal of action) “is not to act just BECAUSE someone else tells one to, but to act for oneself BECAUSE ONE SEES FOR ONESELF, in the light of God’s will and the teaching of the Church or one’s lawful superior [who today can only be past popes], that the action IS right…”
Peter Michaels also states, in his work This Perverse Generation (1949): “If all Catholics have a moral duty to understand the faith at their level of secular education, few of us are going to be saved… How much longer are Catholics going to pretend that if our hearts are in the right place, we can safely continue to live in an intellectual void?” Traditionalists may obey their (unlawful) “superiors” and refrain from making the required judgments, but they do not and cannot escape the Church’s latae sententiae, ipso facto censures for heresy, schism, and communicatio in sacris. That is something they will never hear from their erstwhile “clergy,” but it is the absolute reality that constitutes the Catholic Church. And so these unfortunates, who willfully choose not to educate themselves, will go to the end thinking they are members of the Church, only to find at their private judgment they left Her long ago, and God expected them to put forth far more effort to discover the truth than they were willing to expend. It is a terrifying thought, one not many will be willing to entertain. But it is not just a thought or an opinion — it is Church teaching, Church law, and they are bound by it. In fact the Church condemns this practice of Traditionalists under the titles of Fideism and Traditionalism.
The Catholic Encyclopedia states that Fideism teaches there is no need of intellectual assent based on objective evidence and the only thing expected of Catholics is to make an act of faith. The article explains that Fideists falsely teach: “The supreme criterion of certitude is authority…,” noting that, “An act of faith cannot be the primary form of human knowledge. Authority, indeed, in order to be a motive of assent, must be previously acknowledged as being certainly valid; before we believe in a proposition as revealed by God we must first know with certitude that God exists, that He reveals such and such a proposition, and that His teaching is worthy of assent, all of which questions can and must be ultimately decided only by an act of intellectual assent based on objective evidence. Thus, fideism not only denies intellectual knowledge but logically ruins faith itself… As to the opinion of those who maintain that our supernatural assent is prepared for by motives of credibility merely probable, it is evident that it logically destroys the certitude of such an assent. This opinion was condemned by Bd. Innocent XI in the decree of 2 March 1679 (DZ 1171), and by Pope St. Pius X in the Lamentabili sane.”
And here we see mirrored the very assent the followers of these Traditionalists are expected to give contrary to the teachings of these holy popes and the unanimous opinion of theologians: acceptance of the orders and the sacraments these self-appointed “clerics” dispense as valid. Not only are their claims based on the thinnest possible evidence, which cannot even be said to amount to a probable opinion, their teachings and actions have been proven over and over again to be in direct contradiction of the constant teachings of the continual magisterium.
Pascal Parente and other authors define Traditionalism as: “A philosophico-religious system, which depreciates human reason and establishes the tradition of mankind, which is bound up with language, as the criterion of truth and certainty,” (Dictionary of Theology; many Traditionalists experience this as the teachings offered them on the “sensus catholicus”). This error was condemned by Pope Pius IX in Qui pluribus and by the Sacred Congregation in 1855 (DZ 1649) So it must be understood, as explained elsewhere, that the choice of the name Traditionalism was not a random one. Those selecting this name for their sect in the 1970s following the cessation of the Latin Mass, did not necessarily intend for it to reflect the Traditions of faith as most Traditionalists innocently assume. For true Tradition is bound up with the deposit of faith Christ entrusted to His Apostles and the transmission of that same deposit by the Roman Pontiffs, unchanged, throughout the centuries. This is definitely something not transmitted by Traditionalists.
By leading those wishing to be Catholic away from the teachings of the Roman Pontiffs and exerting a false authority they insist must be obeyed, Traditionalist “clergy” falsify the Catholic faith and drag souls with them into hell. Those who prefer lies to truth should be scrambling to discover what it really means to be a Catholic or be prepared to give an accounting to Truth itself when they leave this world.