St. Paul makes it clear that the measure of “true preaching” is consistency with what he had already preached, rather than the authority of the preacher. He sought to alleviate all doubt on this point by making it clear that the Galatians would have to reject teaching from St. Paul himself, and even an angel from heaven, if such teaching conflicted with the true religion that he had already taught them.
We see applications of this principle in the Church’s practice of condemning error (at least prior to Vatican II), but there is an implicit point that is crucial for us to understand today: if a belief structure, such as Christianity, were to actually contradict itself on matters of faith or morals, the belief structure would be false. As Pope Leo XIII wrote in Providentissimus Deus, “truth cannot contradict truth.”
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As we are living in a time in which the Church hierarchy appears to no longer grasp this concept, it is worth considering how various Catholics, including Popes Benedict XVI and Francis, have elaborated on it throughout the centuries.
St. Vincent of Lerins. In his First Epistle to Timothy, St. Paul made a similar point to the one he made to the Galatians:
"O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding the profane novelties of words, and opposition of knowledge falsely so called” (Timothy 6:20)
In his Commonitorium, St. Vincent of Lerins expounded upon St. Paul’s reference to “profane novelties of words”:
"Profane novelties of words, that is, of doctrines, subjects, opinions, such as are contrary to antiquity and the faith of the olden time. Which if they be received, it follows necessarily that the faith of the blessed fathers is violated either in whole, or at all events in great part; it follows necessarily that all the faithful of all ages, all the saints, the chaste, the continent, the virgins, all the clergy, Deacons and Priests, so many thousands of Confessors, so vast an army of martyrs, such multitudes of cities and of peoples, so many islands, provinces, kings, tribes, kingdoms, nations, in a word, almost the whole earth, incorporated in Christ the Head, through the Catholic faith, have been ignorant for so long a tract of time, have been mistaken, have blasphemed, have not known what to believe, what to confess.”
If today we accept new “doctrines, subjects, opinions” that are contrary to traditional teachings, that would mean that all of our predecessors in the Faith “have been mistaken” and “have blasphemed” in holding the “old Faith.” This, of course, would be preposterous.
Pope Leo XIII. Pope Leo XIII dealt with the question extensively in Satis Cognitum:
"Wherefore, as appears from what has been said, Christ instituted in the Church a living, authoritative and permanent Magisterium, which by His own power He strengthened, by the Spirit of truth He taught, and by miracles confirmed. He willed and ordered, under the gravest penalties, that its teachings should be received as if they were His own. As often, therefore, as it is declared on the authority of this teaching that this or that is contained in the deposit of divine revelation, it must be believed by everyone as true. If it could in any way be false, an evident contradiction follows; for then God Himself would be the author of error in man. ‘Lord, if we be in error, we are being deceived by Thee’ (Richardus de S. Victore, De Trin., lib. i., cap. 2). In this wise, all cause for doubting being removed, can it be lawful for anyone to reject any one of those truths without by the very fact falling into heresy? – without separating himself from the Church? – without repudiating in one sweeping act the whole of Christian teaching? For such is the nature of faith that nothing can be more absurd than to accept some things and reject others."
According to Leo XIII, one cannot reject any teaching in divine revelation “without repudiating in one sweeping act the whole of Christian teaching.” If a real contradiction were to exist within the deposit of Faith, Catholicism could not be true. It follows, then, that those who embrace actual doctrinal contradictions within Catholicism are effectively declaring that they believe Catholicism to be false.
Evelyn Waugh. Evelyn Waugh was neither a saint nor a theologian but saw this concept as a matter of common sense. In an essay on his conversion in The Road to Damascus, he wrote:
"It was self-evident to me that no heresy or schism could be right and the Church wrong. It was possible that all were wrong, that the whole Christian revelation was an imposture or a misconception. But if the Christian revelation was true, then the Church was the society founded by Christ and all other bodies were only good so far as they had salvaged something from the wrecks of the Great Schism and the Reformation."
Waugh identifies two possibilities when faced with traditional Catholic teaching and subsequent conflicting teachings: either (a) the Church is correct, and all heresy and schism is false, or (b) the entire Christian revelation is false. As a matter of logic, he excludes the possibility that heresy could be correct and traditional Church teaching is incorrect.
Romano Amerio. In his tremendous study of the changes in the Catholic Church in the 20th century, Iota Unum, Romano Amerio described the means by which the innovators attempt to disguise the fact that their efforts lead to irreconcilable contradictions:
"To prevent this breakdown in continuity and intelligibility, even the innovators who are promoting the cause of a fundamental mutation within Christianity are obliged to uphold the historical continuity of the Church in some way or other; to admit they support a transformation of substance would be equivalent to apostatizing openly, and would confound all their arguments, because their new predicates would have no continuing subject to which they could be attached. They therefore attempt to disguise the leap to a different kind of reality by describing it in other terms, namely in terms of another mode of being."
The innovators themselves understand that they must preserve the appearance of continuity if they wish to succeed in introducing their novelties. Telling us what they were actually doing “would be the equivalent of apostatizing openly.” In other words, there is such a fundamental opposition between the innovations promoted by the peddlers of the Spirit of Vatican II on the one hand, and timeless teachings of Catholicism on the other, that to accept both would be to reject the Catholic Church’s claims that it possesses the true Faith entrusted to the Church by God.
Pope Francis. A few months into his papacy, Pope Francis completed an encyclical that Pope Benedict XVI had started prior to his resignation. As Pope Francis describes in Lumen Fidei, it is a work that blends the viewpoints of the two men: Benedict XVI “had almost completed a first draft of an encyclical on faith. For this I am deeply grateful to him, and as his brother in Christ I have taken up his fine work and added a few contributions of my own.” With this in mind, we can see echoes of St. Paul, St. Vincent of Lerins and Pope Leo XIII in the encyclical’s clear exposition of the need for doctrinal continuity:
"Since faith is one, it must be professed in all its purity and integrity. Precisely because all the articles of faith are interconnected, to deny one of them, even of those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole. Each period of history can find this or that point of faith easier or harder to accept: hence the need for vigilance in ensuring that the deposit of faith is passed on in its entirety (cf. 1 Tim 6:20) and that all aspects of the profession of faith are duly emphasized. Indeed, inasmuch as the unity of faith is the unity of the Church, to subtract something from the faith is to subtract something from the veracity of communion."
We might wonder what, if anything, Pope Francis contributed to this passage. Nonetheless, by including it in an encyclical published under his name, the pope cannot legitimately dispute its content.
Conversely, it seems that we can discern Pope Francis’s modernist hands on the following passage that bridges the gap between Pope Benedict’s orthodoxy and what we have witnessed since the encyclical’s 2013 publication:
"Faith, in fact, needs a setting in which it can be witnessed to and communicated, a means which is suitable and proportionate to what is communicated. For transmitting a purely doctrinal content, an idea might suffice, or perhaps a book, or the repetition of a spoken message. But what is communicated in the Church, what is handed down in her living Tradition, is the new light born of an encounter with the true God, a light which touches us at the core of our being and engages our minds, wills and emotions, opening us to relationships lived in communion."
So one might be able to transmit “purely doctrinal content” through a catechism, but for the pope there is a more engaging process of transmitting the fuller faith, one that relies heavily on witnessing and encountering, wills and emotions. This mentality seems to assign a small and comparatively unimportant (and boring) closet for the orthodoxy that Pope Benedict insisted upon; and it opens the rest of the spacious mansion to be occupied by the innovators described by Romano Amerio.
Regarding this transmission of the fuller faith, Pope Francis refers to the “unbroken chain of witnesses” which, again, seems to promise some fidelity to orthodoxy. However, we see the path for mischief as he then proceeds to describe the way in which “others” help guide “us along on our pilgrimage of faith”:
"Because faith is born of an encounter which takes place in history and lights up our journey through time, it must be passed on in every age. It is through an unbroken chain of witnesses that we come to see the face of Jesus. But how is this possible? How can we be certain, after all these centuries, that we have encountered the ‘real Jesus’? Were we merely isolated individuals, were our starting point simply our own individual ego seeking in itself the basis of absolutely sure knowledge, a certainty of this sort would be impossible. I cannot possibly verify for myself something which happened so long ago. But this is not the only way we attain knowledge.
Persons always live in relationship. We come from others, we belong to others, and our lives are enlarged by our encounter with others. Even our own knowledge and self-awareness are relational; they are linked to others who have gone before us: in the first place, our parents, who gave us our life and our name. Language itself, the words by which we make sense of our lives and the world around us, comes to us from others, preserved in the living memory of others. Self-knowledge is only possible when we share in a greater memory. The same thing holds true for faith, which brings human understanding to its fullness. Faith’s past, that act of Jesus’ love which brought new life to the world, comes down to us through the memory of others — witnesses — and is kept alive in that one remembering subject which is the Church.
So, according to Francis, outside of the narrow universe of “purely doctrinal content,” we learn the Faith by encounters with witnesses who have some memories. Thus, St. Paul’s guidance to adhere to what the Church has always taught is minimized, and the opposite – to follow the authority of individuals over truth – is enlarged to the point that it engulfs the entire religion.
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In the years that have passed since this 2013 encyclical, we have discovered why Pope Francis set the stage for the “witnesses” guiding us on “our pilgrimage of faith.” Those with eyes to see know that he has given us nothing but false witnesses who have sought to undermine the Faith that St. Paul knew. We have continuity solely with respect to people who have apparent authority, but we have definite rupture with timeless truth. In a real sense, one cannot logically accept Pope Francis’s teachings without, in the words of Leo XIII, “repudiating in one sweeping act the whole of Christian teaching.”
All of this became more clear when Pope Francis recently announced that those who reject the novelties of Vatican II are not in his church:
"You can be with the church and therefore follow the council, or you can not follow the council or interpret it in your own way, as you want, and you are not with the church."
In Pope Francis’s church, truth can contradict truth so long as you have false witnesses who are bold or foolish enough to make that claim. Such a church would make a fine “one world religion,” but it is not one that can count St. Paul, or any other saint, as members. May God help us to remain faithful to His Church, no matter what false witness Pope Francis and his followers bring against us! Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, pray for us!