God’s Will and the Law
© Copyright 1990; revised 2012, T. Stanfill Benns (This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author. All emphasis within quotes is the author’s unless indicated otherwise.)
Rev. Nicolas Neuberger in his Commentary on Canon 6 has cited the Church’s laws concerning discipline as negatively infallible, meaning that they cannot work to the harm of souls or the destruction of the divine principle of perpetuity and infallibility on which the Church is built. Volume V (v), of the Catholic Encyclopedia, under “Discipline” states that it is the UNANIMOUS OPINION of the theologians that discipline enjoys “a negative, indirect infallibility, i.e., the Church can prescribe nothing that would be contrary to the natural or Divine law, nor prohibit anything that the natural or Divine law would exact.” Pope Pius IX declared the unanimous opinion of theologians to be infallible, and hence anything determined by them unanimously must be firmly believed. (DZ 1683)
Furthermore, we have the words of Pope Pius IX, in his Encyclical Quartus Supra, where he teaches: “… discipline is often so closely united to dogma, it has such an influence on its preservation and on its purity, that the sacred Councils have not hesitated in many cases to pronounce anathemas against those guilty of disciplinary violations and separated them from communion with the Church.” Leo XIII states in his encyclicalSapientiae Christianae: “In setting how far the limits of obedience extend, let no one imagine that the authority of the sacred pastors, and above all of the Roman Pontiff, need be obeyed only insofar as it is concerned with dogma, the obstinate denial of which entails the guilt of heresy …. Christian men must be willing to be ruled and governed by the authority and direction of … (in the first place) the Apostolic See .. When the Church speaks, even when She does not speak with all the weight of Her infallible utterance, She does so invariably to give us SAFE GUIDANCE… a Catholic is PRACTICALLY secure in listening to the voice of those whom God has set to rule the Church.” (see DZ 1673 and 1792)
The constitutions and Decrees of the Holy Pontiffs are most especially embodied in Canon Law, according to Volume IX (iii) of the Catholic Encyclopedia. Concerning Canon Law’s constitution, Rev. Francis J. Schaeffer writes in this volume: “THE ULTIMATE SOURCE OF CANON LAW IS GOD, whose will is manifested either by the very nature of things (natural Divine law) or by Revelation (positive Divine law) …To attain its sublime end, the Church, endowed by its Founder with legislative power, makes laws in conformity with natural and Divine law. The sources or authors of this positive ecclesiastical law are essentially the episcopate and its head, the pope, the successors of the Apostolic College and its divinely appointed head, St. Peter. They are, properly speaking, the active sources of canon law. Their activity is exercised in its most solemn form by the ecumenical councils…(these) councils, especially…Trent, hold an exceptional place in ecclesiastical law… The sovereign pontiff is the most fruitful source of canon law: …From the earliest ages the letters of the Roman Pontiffs constitute, with the canons of the Councils, the principal element of Canon Law; … they are everywhere relied upon and collected, and the ancient canonical compilations contain a large number of these precious decretals.” If we wish to know the will of God, and the mind of the Church as it has been consistently expressed throughout the ages, we need only look as far as Canon Law.
Each day Catholics pray the “Our Father,” and beseech “Thy will be done on earth…” They have little if any idea of how this might be accomplished. All they understand is that God’s will is something that simply “happens.” The Great Apostasy has “happened;” the shepherd has been struck as well as the flock dispersed, and they are all quite resigned to all this. Unfortunately they understand only half of the formula used to determine God’s will, and as we might expect it it the less important half, and that very aspect most likely to incline to Quietism, (failing to do what one can for oneself and leving God to do everything without the required works). St. Cyprian, Father of the Church, gave us a general indication of God’s will when he wrote: “The Will of God is what Christ has done and taught.” Rev. Aldolphe Tanquerey, that great master of the spiritual life, wrote: “Now to conform our wills to that of God is assuredly to cease to do evil, and to learn to do good. Is not this the meaning of that oft repeated text: ‘FOR OBEDIENCE IS BETTER THAN SACRIFICES’ (1 Kings XV, 22; Osee VI, 6; Matt IX, 3 also XII, 7) In the New Law, Our Lord declares from the very moment of His entry into the world that it is with obedience that He will replace the sacrifices of the Ancient Law: ‘Holocausts for sin did not please Thee. Then I said: Behold I come … that I should do Thy will, O God.’ (Hebrews X, 6-7; Phil 11, 8; Phil, IV, 3). And in truth, it is by obedience unto the immolation of self that He has redeemed us: ‘He was made obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross.’ (John 4, 34) In the same way, it is through obedience and through the acceptance of God-ordained trials in union with Christ that we shall atone for our sins and cleanse our soul.” (“The Spiritual Life,” pages 240-241).
We must remember these words well. Christ forever gave us perfect example in these matters by fulfilling every point of His Father’s will. He enjoined our imitation of Him in this practice of perfection when he told us: “For whosoever shall do the will of My Father that is in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother … not everyone that saith to me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the Kingdom …but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter … heaven.” (Matt 12, 50; Matt 7, 21. “The Heliotropium” by Jeremias Drexelius is called by his editor, Rev. Ferdinand Bogmer, “… the most distinguished ascetical writer of Germany in the 17th century.:) St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church, explains further that there are TWO parts to the will of God; the will of signification and the will of good-pleasure. St. Francis lists the following four parts belonging to God’s will of signification as:
- the commandments of God and of His Church,
- the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity, obedience),
- divine inspiration, and
- those duties peculiar to our chosen vocation…,” (“Holy Abandonment,” Rt. Rev. Dom Vital Lehody O.C.R., page 9).
Commenting further, St. Francis writes: “Obedience to the Commandments, both divine and ecclesiastical, is of obligation for all, because there is question here of THE ABSOLUTE WILL OF GOD WHO HAS MADE SUBMISSION TO THESE ORDINANCES A CONDITION OF SALVATION,” (Ibid, emphasis ours) St. Francis observes that God rather desires than wills the counsels, or binding ourselves to some religious order or spiritual director, (which today is totally impossible). While we cannot submit our suspected divine inspirations to a spiritual director today, this does not mean that we should ignore them, either. Revs. Caussade and Grou, in their works on God’s holy will, assure us that if we have no spirutual directors today, God Himself will direct us. Therefore we should do what our director would normally do for us, submitting our “inspirations” to the scrutiny of Divine and canon law, holding the law superior to such “inspirations.” Commenting on St. Francis’ observations, Rev. Lehody writes: “… Rules are ordinarily the chief means at our disposal for the purification of our souls. Obedience detaches and purifies us continually by the thousand renunciations it imposes, and still more by its demand for the mortification of our judgement and self-will… The signified will must be considered the fixed and regular path amidst the accidental and variable events of life, the tasks of our days and of every instant.” (“Holy Abandonment,” pages 18 and 22).
St. Francis de Sales relates that God’s will of good-pleasure can be found, “… in everything that befalls us: in sickness, in death, in affliction, in consolation, in adversity and prosperity … in all unforseen circumstances.’ (Ibid. page 11) Rev. Lehody spurns the notion of the Quietists that the soul must remain passive and advance no effort, letting God do with it what He will and warns us against such a misinterpretation of God’s will of good-pleasure. If the Saints seemed to us to be effortlessly supported by God, we must remember how relentlessly they pursued Him and how tirelessly they worked on His behalf. If we hasten to fulfill all the laws of God because we wish to be obedient to Him, even though we have no superiors, how can He possibly be said to fault us? St. Bonaventure writes: “Al1 religious perfection equals martyrdom in merit.” (“Holy Abandonment,” page 18) And St. Bernard teaches that neither zeal for good works, nor the sweetness of divine contemplation, nor the tears of penitence would have been acceptable to Him apart from obedience, (Ibid. page 21). He also calls obedience WITHOUT DELAY “…the first degree of humility…” (“The Book of Catholic Quotations,” page 642).
And it is useless to say that having no superiors, we are excused, for the laws of numerous popes and councils throughout Church history continue to remain at our disposal in the form of Canon Law, which has not been greatly altered in all its 1,958 years or so of existence. We would do well to remember the words of Pius XII in his encyclical,Mortalium Animos: … “No one is in this Church, no one perseveres, unless he acknowledges and obediently accepts the power and authority of Peter and his legitimate successors,” which today means reading and obeying all that the popes have taught throughout the centuries. Likewise we read in the Vatican Council documents: “…the faithful… are bound by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, not only in those things which pertain to faith and morals, BUT ALSO THOSE WHICH PERTAIN TO THE DISCIPLINE AND GOVERNMENT OF THE CHURCH, so that the Church of Christ, protected not only by the Roman Pontiff, but by the unity of communion as well as the profession of the same faith, is one flock under one highest shepherd. THIS IS THE DOCTRINE OF CATHOLIC TRUTH FROM WHICH NO ONE CAN DEVIATE AND KEEP HIS FAITH AND SALVATION.” (DZ 1827).
Here, then, is the final answer to all those who dare to assail Canon Law. They cannot understand that it is not inequitable LAWS that bind us, but the failure to obey these laws and make them known to those who are in ignorance concerning them. Here the Novus Ordo church has had a legitimate complaint: We have not obeyed the laws of the Church existing before 1958. Instead there are those who have erected illegal “Traditional” centers in violation of ALL the laws governing the Church. But neither is the Novus Ordo crowd justified in obeying the “popes’ of the false Vatican 2 council. We all know that the Church can bind us only through Her LEGITIMATE pastors; this is the entire thrust of Paul IV’s infallible decree “Cum ex…” We cannot pick and choose which laws we must follow either; Scripture tells us that the man who is faithful, even in little things, is the man who is pleasing to God.
Many Traditionalists have lost all hope of a reprieve and have, as a result, fallen prey to the ‘pray, retreat and await the end’ syndrome. They have not studied to learn God’s will of signification, so they are ignorant of the obedience owed to ALL the laws of the Church under pain of exclusion from Her pale. They make no effort and expect God to carry them through whatever trials and tribulations await us in the. Latter Days. Bossuet addressed this Quietistic error when he wrote: “Having endowed us with intelligence, foresight and liberty, (God) wills that we should make use of them … To abandon ourselves to God without on our side doing what we can, is cowardice and insolence. There was nothing of this bad tendency about the piety of David … in the conduct of David we have abandonment in the Christian sense of the word and according to Apostolic teaching Whilst he awaited submissively whatever God should ordain regarding his kingdom and person, during Absolom’s revolt, without losing a moment he issued the necessary orders to his troops, his counsellors and principle confidants, to secure his retreat and re-establish his authority … One can see that (such behaviour) rests on two fundamental principles: the conviction that God has care of us and the conviction that we must none the less exercise our energies and vigilance, otherwise WE SHOULD BE TEMPTING GOD.” (“Holy Abandonment,” pages 36 and 37).
Drexelius, in his “Heliotropium” tells us the same: “That war and death of all kinds are from God is clearly enough. But the conclusion drawn from this that we must not resist an enemy, and must not grapple with disease, is bad. The sick man does not know how long God wills that he should be afflicted.” Therefore he may “… strive against it and use any lawful remedy for recovering his health … God often willed that the Children of Israel should be attacked … but as long as it did not appear that He willed they should be overcome, so long did they resist an enemy … It would have been otherwise if God had warned them, as He did by the prophet Jeremias, that they should surrender themselves as servants to King Nebuchodnasor.” (pages 12-13). Those who insist on disregarding God’s will would do well to heed the words of St. Dorothy: ‘When you see a solitary who has abandoned his state and fallen into serious disorders, understand that this misfortune is the result of his insistence on following his own will. For nothing can be so perilous and pernicious as to take as our guide our own spirit, directing our steps by our own lights.’” (“Holy Abandonment,” page 19).
It must be remembered that only Lot escaped the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; that only eight entered the ark of Noah; that only two of the Israelites who left Egypt entered the Promised Land; and finally, that only Our Lady and St. John (who later retreated to the upper room), Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James the less, and Salome, along with Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, were to be found at Calvary. The Apostles were far removed from the site, hiding in the upper room “for fear of the Jews.” Likewise, the valid hierarchy remain in hiding who justifiably fear for their lives. Webster’s Dictionary defines “remnant” as “a small fragment, a scant trace.” God promised never to leave us orphans; wherever two or three are gathered in His name, there shall He also abide. As Psalm 110 proclaims: “They that put their trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Sion; he shall not be moved forever.”