“We Will Make up Our Minds for Ourselves” – Traditionalist Modus Operandi under the Pontificate of Pope Francis

Pope Pius IX – Presided over Vatican 1 (1870)

I have never followed John Zmirak. But here is a piece someone of high repute sent to me for the purpose of being edified. Of course, the article is all in the title. The idea here is that Pope Francis is the “New Teacher” ready to revise the doctrine of Jesus Christ. That isn’t what really caught my attention. I will share what caught my attention. Zmirak wrote:

Yes, Catholics will defer to a pope if he ever uses his supreme power to declare something as infallible. That has happened maybe eight times in history. The rest of the time? We’ll judge what he says on its merits. Compare it to Scripture, sacred Tradition, and Natural Law. Then make up our minds for ourselves.”

Read that last part again – “Then make up our minds for ourselves.”

This is rather ironic. My readers have been aware of my recent “brain twisting” posts which seek to highlight how some of the most intelligent Traditional Catholics can enter into a logical paralysis when it comes to explaining the current situation in the Catholic Church since the 2nd Vatican Council, and especially under Pope Francis. And I don’t think this is a result of any lack of intelligence. On the contrary, some of the brightest people I know can fall into this, and so the cause is to be found elsewhere than in “low IQ”. But I’m not a pyschologist. Anyway, read this statement from Zmirak a few times. And then, read the below statements taken from Pastor Aeternus, which happens to be a document produced from the extraordinary authority of an Ecumenical Council, the Council of Vatican 1 (1870):

That which our lord Jesus Christ, the prince of shepherds and great shepherd of the sheep, established in the blessed apostle Peter, for the continual salvation and permanent benefit of the church, must of necessity remain for ever, by Christ’s authority, in the church which, founded as it is upon a rock, will stand firm until the end of time… Therefore whoever succeeds to the chair of Peter obtains by the institution of Christ himself, the primacy of Peter over the whole church. So what the truth has ordained stands firm, and blessed Peter perseveres in the rock-like strength he was granted, and does not abandon that guidance of the church which he once received. For this reason it has always been necessary for every church–that is to say the faithful throughout the world–to be in agreement with the Roman church…For in the apostolic see the catholic religion has always been preserved unblemished, and sacred doctrine been held in honour. …This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this see so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine. Thus the tendency to schism is removed and the whole church is preserved in unity, and, resting on its foundation, can stand firm against the gates of hell.”

The above are statements made by the 1st Vatican Council. And yet, according to Zmirak, outside of 8 times in history, the Papal ministry has been open to be a source of error and potential heresy. In other words, despite the fact that he believes that Christ established the Papal Office for the perrmanent, perpetual, and everlasting guardianship of the Apostolic Faith, such that this Office, as the Rock of the Church, would “of necessity remain forever… firm until the end of time”, he also thinks that, outside of MAYBE “8 times” (presuming he thinks even this is open for question), the Papal Office could potentially be a source of erroneous departure from Christ and His Gospel, to which he must apply his own private judgment in discerning whether he will believe it or not. Another way of putting it, this flavor of “Recognize and Resist” holds that the successor of Peter can perpetually lead the flock of Christ to back waters/grass, but only when he speaks ex Cathedra must he be obeyed.

One prominent contact of mine (an editor of an academic magazine/journal), via e-mail, who is a Protestant responded with two words to Zmirak’s article – “Welcome Home!” .

What an apt response. Meaning, welcome to the state where Protestants found themselves in the 16th century, is what he means.

Folks. Whatever it is you have to do to clean the clutter of your mind, please get to a point where you can, after rubbing your eyes once more, realize this makes as much sense as one’s online purchase from an Ad displaying ocean-side condos for cheap in Kansas state (to borrow a quip from a friend). It makes absolutely no sense to affirm what is said in Pastor Aeternus, and then turn around and say that 99.9% of the Papal Ministry could have been a force of error and pestilence. Bishop Vincent Gasser, who will be known by my trad readers, already did the logic for us here folks. While being in the flesh present at the Council of Vatican 1, where he delivered the famous “Relatio” on Papal power, he stated the following criteria of falsification for the Papacy. Trads today do well to clean their ears, rub their eyes, and give this a fresh look:

““This prerogative [of infallibility] granted to St. Peter by the Lord Jesus Christ was supposed to pass to all Peter’s successors because the Chair of Peter is the center of unity in the Church. But if the Pontiff should fall into an error of faith, the Church would dissolve, deprived of the bond of unity. The Bishop of Meaux speaks very well on this point, saying: ‘If this Roman See could fall and be no longer the See of Truth, but of error and pestilence, then the Catholic Church herself would not have the bond of a society and would be schismatic and scattered — which, in fact is impossible‘….But Christ instituted nothing of this sort; rather He placed Peter and his successor as an immobile bulwark of faith, as the heir of a confirmed faith and as the one who confirms his brothers, and, finally, as the pastor of the whole flock of the Lord, ruling it in such a way that it lacks nothing and leading it to good pastures. “

(Excerpted from the Relatio of Bishop Vincent Ferrer Gasser on July 11th, 1870 – translation taken from “The Gift of Infallibility” by Rev. James T. O’Connor)

So ask yourself. Has the See of Peter become a “See of Pestilence”? If yes, then from the very 1st Vatican Council, you have met its own criterion of falsification. Now what? Ball is in your court. Oh, and do spare the fine tuning conditioning of “ex Cathedra” so that this becomes so technically complex that it might as well be a needle in a haystack. Either the words of the Vatican Council above are true, or they are not. Use common sense, here. Not legal gymnastics.

9 thoughts on ““We Will Make up Our Minds for Ourselves” – Traditionalist Modus Operandi under the Pontificate of Pope Francis

  1. I’m not a trad, but do find myself viewing the current Vatican with great suspicion and as a source of “pestilence,” as you put it.

    How do you view it? Do you see Francis’s pontificate as fitting the description of Pastor Aeternus? In what ways?

    • Vatican II is a continuation of the line of thought inaugurated by the Catholics of the renaissance, especially the thought of Pico de la Mirandola. That is the context of the emphasis on the dignity of man, the ecumenism, the recognition of the good in other faiths, etc. It is not a new apostasy. It’s a recognition that the distraction of the Protestant revolt is largely over, back to the serious questions.

  2. It’s a great question you’ve posed, and you’ve attempted to address similar questions in other posts on this blog (I’m new to this blog but I think I will keep reading!). Correct me if I’m wrong but based on some other blogposts I suspect you aren’t asking a rhetorical question at the end here. You would have answered the question if you thought you had a great answer to it.

    If we take as a fact that the Church is indefectible, which at the bare minimum implies that the dogmas of the Church are infallible and that sedevacantism is out of the question, then even if there are several lesser items that seem to be in contradiction, the only way to square the circle is to use the process of elimination and eliminate the weakest links. As long as the weak links are found among non-infallible teachings, we’re in the clear. We’re wounded, for sure, by having to make surgical excisions like this in our cherished presuppositions about truth, but I think it should be on the table. … OR, you could just let everything stand, including Amoris laetitia and the new death penalty thing. There are some apologists who are happy to just let every single thing stand, and use strange gymnastics to glue it all together. At the end of the day, as infuriating as that is, technically that is still a viable option. Some think that any readiness to question things is inherently the modernist heresy, but the alternative is absurdity. There should be a better way to put the puzzle together I think.

    What are the weakest links? I’m sure there are many assumptions that we and even the great dogmatic theologians thought that aren’t quite as certain as we like to assert. Sometimes. I’m not talking about the defined doctrines, but in a meta sense I’m talking about the way we talk about the Church’s very mechanism for expressing truth. But we don’t even need to consider that. It seems to me the question you posed has an easy answer (and I’m not saying this is the only answer but a possible one): salvaging the 100% unequivocal literal meaning of that paragraph in Vatican I is less vital for the sanity of the faithful than recognizing a serious problem with Francis and learning how to “make up our minds.” That paragraph can retain most of its force, even if we are saying that much of what Francis does is deleterious. To be fair, right, most of Francis’ day is spent breathing, walking, praying, sleeping, eating. Strictly temporally he is not spending the majority of his time attacking the Church. He may spend approximately 100 hours devoted entirely to that for each year in his pontificate, but this is nowhere near 99.9% of his ministry. Some of his ministry is unobjectionable, like his ministry to the poor of Rome, and his celebrating papal masses.

    In short, if the reality of Francis’s … “difficulties” makes that Vatican I paragraph and its purported antecedents in the Fathers incomprehensible, then we’re reading that paragraph (and the patristic tradition) wrong. What is it that the pope says, “realities are more important than ideas?” Case in point. The reality of Pope Francis is providing for us the correct and precise interpretation of Vatican I which previously was understood in sufficiently in the idea but perhaps deficiently in the reality.

    • I understand what you’re saying here, but it runs the risk of making a mockery of reason — that is, you have your conclusion already, the sole task now is to make the data fit the conclusion by “reading it correctly,” where “correctly” is defined by the needs of the current moment to save the conclusion.

      To give a concrete example, I grew up Mormon, and Mormonism is full of this kind of reasoning. Joseph Smith didn’t actually “translate” Egyptian papyrus written by Abraham? Very well, we must have misunderstood what he meant by “translate.” Etc. etc., I could provide a hundred examples.

      There’s room for that work at times, but it also can start to smell fishy pretty quickly.

      • I don’t think that’s quite right. How do you know a thing? By thinking about it, but mainly be experiencing it. Papal infallibility had been thought about and experienced for 1800 years, which was distilled into the dogmatic decree of Vatican I. In defining infallibility (and jurisdiction), by extension we learn something about papal fallibility (and the limits of his jurisdiction), but the dogma is about infallibility, not fallibility. In history, the fallibility of popes has been very minor, and when it has happened, we’ve treated it like Shem and Japheth treated their drunk father—concealing so as not to scandalize. Papal fallibility had not been a palpable reality like papal infallibility had been.
        But with Francis, it is discovered and felt and cannot be concealed. We have learned more about reality. Not more about the faith, but more about reality since this pope has done things no pope has even done before. Vatican I touched on fallibility in a theoretical way but now we have actual data and it is time to synthesize the data with the comments in the council.

  3. The Patriarchs, of the churhes in union with Rome. Do they or will they ever in the furture have a voice about correcting the Roman Catholic Church? (Mini-Council of a majority of Patriarchs?)

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