OPEN

BYPASS BIG TECH CENSORSHIP - SIGN UP FOR mICHAEL mATT'S REGULAR E-BLAST

Invalid Input

Invalid Input

OPEN
Search the Remnant Newspaper
Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Keeping the Faith at the Intersection of Indefectibility and Grim Reality

Written by 
Rate this item
(24 votes)
Keeping the Faith at the Intersection of Indefectibility and Grim Reality

And I say to thee: That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)

Going, therefore, teach ye all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world. (Matthew 28:20)

 

These words from Our Lord should give us great confidence that God will always protect His Church, and they form the basis for the Church’s teaching on indefectibility, described in Dr. Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma as follows:

“The Church is indefectible, that is, she remains and will remain the Institution of Salvation, founded by Christ, until the end of the world.” (Sent. certa.)

In more tranquil times, this teaching was a source of greater consolation for those who could look to the successor of St. Peter as shepherd of the Catholic flock. For the last several decades, though, and especially in the time since Benedict XVI resigned the papacy, the Church’s teaching on indefectibility has contributed to the consternation of many Catholics.

At issue, of course, is the fact that the Church appears to have defected.

At issue, of course, is the fact that the Church appears to have defected. Even if one could look past certain novelties in the documents of Vatican II, the Church’s ostensible hierarchy has progressively attacked the marks of the Church since the Council. Today, no rational observer can deny that there are challenges to believing that Francis is leading the same One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church that existed prior to Vatican II. Paul VI sensed that the “smoke of Satan” had entered the Church, but Francis’s Pachamama pontificate has removed all possible doubt — God evidently wants us to take notice that something quite tragic has happened in the Church and respond accordingly.

The intersection of this grim reality with the Church’s teaching on indefectibility has caused some Catholics to conclude that the popes since Pius XII have all been anti-popes — they believe such a position would preserve the Church’s indefectibility since the unfortunate actions of John XXIII and his successors would not be imputed to the Church. Other Catholics consider that this sedevacantist position would itself violate the promises of indefectibility. Still others attempt to resolve the issue by ignoring or denying reality, an increasingly difficult task during Francis’s occupation of the papacy.

To evaluate this state of confusion, we need to consider the full scope of Church’s teaching on indefectibility. But as an initial matter it is worth pausing to reflect on Our Lord’s words that form the basis of that teaching. St. Jerome provides a reliable interpretation of Our Lord’s promise that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church:

“We know that the Church will be harassed by persecution until the end of the world, but it cannot be destroyed; it shall be tried, but not overcome for such is the promise of an omnipotent God whose word is as a law of nature.”

God’s protection of the Church consisted in giving St. Athanasius the grace to fight for the Faith even though it looked like the gates of hell might prevail.

This promise would mean much less were it not for times in Church history in which it would appear that the gates of hell had almost prevailed. The Church suffered so much during the Arian crisis of the fourth century that St. Athanasius assured his few followers that the promise of Our Lord would apply even if the Church were reduced to a handful:

“Even if Catholics faithful to Tradition are reduced to a handful, they are the ones who are the true Church of Jesus Christ.

God’s protection of the Church consisted in giving St. Athanasius the grace to fight for the Faith even though it looked like the gates of hell might prevail.

Unless we believe that the Church has already defected in the past — which it has not — any proper conception of the Church’s indefectibility must encompass all such historical examples of significant crises within the Church.

Centuries later, the Church suffered the scourge of having competing claimants to the papacy. In his Apologia for Tradition, Professor Roberto de Mattei described the resulting confusion:

“For over 40 years, European Catholics lived a daily drama. Not only were there two colleges of cardinals, but often in the same diocese there were two bishops, two abbots, two parish priests. Every believer was in fact excommunicated by at least one pope. Opposite St. Catherine of Siena and St. Bridget of Sweden were St. Vincent Ferrer and Blessed Peter of Luxembourg, adhering to the French obedience.”

Here too, God’s protection never abated, and the Church emerged from the crisis. Unless we believe that the Church has already defected in the past — which it has not — any proper conception of the Church’s indefectibility must encompass all such historical examples of significant crises within the Church.

Moreover, because He is omniscient, Our Lord’s promises underpinning the teaching on indefectibility necessarily account for His warnings about the end times:

“For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect.” (Matthew 24:24)

“But yet the Son of Man, when He cometh, shall He find, think you, faith on earth?” (Luke 8:18)

These words of Our Lord, in combination with the historical examples of great trials in the Church, obviously comport with the Church’s true teaching on indefectibility and circumscribe its scope. Thus, we cannot legitimately argue in favor of any conception of indefectibility that excludes the possibility of crises that have already occurred in the Church or the eventual obscuring of the Faith described by Our Lord.

As we know from painful experience with Francis, a pope who tries to destroy the Church can certainly make it appear that the Church has defected.

To a lesser extent, we should also consider the words of the Church’s saints who have experienced, or contemplated, situations in which the Church would suffer greatly. St. Vincent of Lerins echoed the words of St. Athanasius:

“What should the Catholic Christian therefore do if some part of the Church arrives at the point of detaching itself from the universal communion and the universal faith? What else can he do but prefer the general body which is healthy to the gangrenous and corrupted limb? And if some new contagion strives to poison, not just a small part of the Church but the whole Church at once, then again his great concern will be to attach himself to Antiquity which obviously cannot any more be seduced by any deceptive novelty.”

Surely St. Vincent understood the promises of Our Lord, and yet he still could conceive of a situation in which error poisoned “the whole Church at once.”

St. Robert Bellarmine’s wisdom on how to respond to a pope who would try to destroy the Church would also tend to limit the scope of indefectibility:

“Just as it is licit to resist a pope who attacks the body, so also it is licit to resist him if he attacks souls or disturbs the civil order or, above all, if he tries to destroy the Church. I say it is licit to resist him by not doing what he orders and by impeding the execution of his will.”

As we know from painful experience with Francis, a pope who tries to destroy the Church can certainly make it appear that the Church has defected. And yet St. Robert Bellarmine did not say that such a situation would mean the Church had defected. Rather, it would mean that Catholics would need to fight for the Church, just as St. Athanasius did.

Quito, La Salette, Fatima, and Akita all point to great apostasies that will devastate the Church. In all of these, Our Lady tells us that faithful Catholics will suffer but can count on God’s graces if they do all they can to preserve the Faith.

Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre added his own saintly wisdom regarding the current crisis:

“Besides, the Truth does not depend on numbers and numbers do not make the Truth. Even if I were alone and all my seminarians left me, even if the whole of public opinion were to abandon me, that would be a matter of indifference as far as I am concerned. I am bound to my Creed, to my catechism, to the Tradition which has sanctified the elect in heaven and I want to save my soul. We know public opinion all too well. It condemned Our Lord a few days after having acclaimed Him. It is Palm Sunday followed by Good Friday.”

Archbishop Lefebvre clearly understood the great crisis in the Church, but he also knew that Our Lord’s promises meant that God would give souls the grace to preserve the Faith if they earnestly sought to do so.

To all of this we can add the warnings of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Quito, La Salette, Fatima, and Akita. They all point to great apostasies that will devastate the Church. In all of these, Our Lady tells us that faithful Catholics will suffer but can count on God’s graces if they do all they can to preserve the Faith.

These considerations should inspire sincere Catholics to keep the Faith in times of great crisis, knowing that God will never abandon His Church. Even if it appears that the Church has been reduced to a handful of faithful souls against a wicked pope and his apostate supporters, we know that God will give us all the grace we need.

The vast majority of Catholics would identify the “visible” Church to be the one led by Francis and his apostate colleagues, animated by the anti-Catholic Spirit of Vatican II, and following a Synodal path to hell.

For better or worse, though, we must also consider the broader and more optimistic interpretations of indefectibility that suggest that the Church will always remain sound in its external characteristics. Thus, Pope Leo XIII’s 1896 encyclical on the Unity of the Church, Satis Cognitum, describes indefectibility as requiring the union of “visible and invisible elements”:

“If we consider the chief end of His Church and the proximate efficient causes of salvation, it is undoubtedly spiritual; but in regard to those who constitute it, and to the things which lead to these spiritual gifts, it is external and necessarily visible. . . . those who arbitrarily conjure up and picture to themselves a hidden and invisible Church are in grievous and pernicious error”

“But since the Church is such by divine will and constitution, such it must uniformly remain to the end of time. If it did nor, then it would not have been founded as perpetual, and the end set before it would have been limited to some certain place and to some certain period of time; both of which are contrary to the truth. The union consequently of visible and invisible elements because it harmonizes with the natural order and by God's will belongs to the very essence of the Church, must necessarily remain so long as the Church itself shall endure.”

Surely this is correct. But taken in isolation, it and similar teachings on indefectibility lead some Catholics to believe that the Church has defected based on the current crisis. After all, the vast majority of Catholics would identify the “visible” Church to be the one led by Francis and his apostate colleagues, animated by the anti-Catholic Spirit of Vatican II, and following a Synodal path to hell.

Now, perhaps more than ever, we can see the true Faith towering above everything else in our fallen world.

And yet we cannot reliably interpret any such statements on indefectibility in a way that ignores historical realities or the words of Our Lord. As such, these more optimistic statements touching on the Church’s indefectibility implicitly allow for certain calamities — such as the Arian crisis — in which the Church might appear to have defected, at least in the eyes of many Catholics.

In this light, the Church’s teachings on indefectibility should tell us that although we are in an extraordinarily awful crisis we can have great confidence that God will give us the graces we need. Satan wants us to conclude that the Church has defected, which is perhaps why Our Lord promised us that it never would.

Beyond this, God has allowed the current attacks on Catholicism to put a new spotlight on the true Church. If we think of the worst monsters alive today (perhaps ever), it is no secret that they are all attacking the true Catholic Faith and those who wish to follow it. And even though everything else in this world is chaotic and toxic, we know from experience that where we find the true Catholic Faith we find peace and God’s abundant graces. Now, perhaps more than ever, we can see the true Faith towering above everything else in our fallen world.

We are blessed to be able to serve God and His Church in these terrible times. Something would be amiss if Satan and his minions were not trying to convince us to abandon the fight by thinking that the Church had been defeated. May the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary help us to stand with her, as she helped St. John stand with her beneath the Cross when everyone else thought Our Lord had been defeated. Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, pray for us!

New from RTV: WHY TRUMP MATTERED: Roe v Wade, RIP

[Comment Guidelines - Click to view]
Last modified on Tuesday, June 28, 2022
Robert Morrison | Remnant Columnist

Robert Morrison is a Catholic, husband and father. He is the author of A Tale Told Softly: Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Hidden Catholic England.