The Pope, the Church, and the Paraclete

We find ourselves living in exciting times during this season of Pentecost. Groups of Anglicans are gradually coming into the Church, thanks to the Holy Father’s November, 2009, motu proprio, Anglicanorum coetibus. A rapprochement is being negotiated between Rome and the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), which may or may not bring about a canonical approbation for the work of that priestly society founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. And while the Holy Father is busying himself with these and manifold other projects ad extra, a major scandal has broken out in the Holy See itself, with sensitive papal correspondences being leaked to the Italian media. To add to the drama, the reports are that “the butler did it,” as papal valet Paolo Gabriele is currently being questioned by the Gendarmerie of Vatican City State, the pope’s police.

I did not say we are living in good times, but in exciting times. And in such times, men can lose their heads, being led about hither and yon by the drama of the moment. The bedrock of Catholic dogma can keep us anchored, and give us a sense of purpose and mission amid these vicissitudes. I would like, then, to return to some of the first principles of our mission at Saint Benedict Center.

The greatest pope of the twentieth century, Pope Saint Pius X, condemned the Modernist contention that “the formulas which we call dogma must be subject to these vicissitudes [i.e., those “of varying human conditions”], and are, therefore, liable to change. Thus the way is open to the intrinsic evolution of dogma.” He said this was part of “an immense structure of sophisms which ruin and wreck all religion” (Pascendi Dominici Gregis, emphasis mine).

Earlier, Pope Leo XIII had condemned the Americanist approach to dogma, which was similar to what the modernists would teach later, since both heresies were “progressivist” in nature: “certain topics of doctrine are passed over as of lesser importance, or are so softened that they do not retain the same sense as the Church has always held” (Testem Benevolentiae, emphasis mine).

And before that, during the reign of Blessed Pius IX, Vatican I taught this: “For the doctrine of the faith which God has revealed is put forward not as some philosophical discovery capable of being perfected by human intelligence, but as a divine deposit committed to the spouse of Christ to be faithfully protected and infallibly promulgated.

“Hence, too, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by Holy mother Church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding.

“May understanding, knowledge and wisdom increase as ages and centuries roll along, and greatly and vigorously flourish, in each and all, in the individual and the whole Church: but this only in its own proper kind, that is to say, in the same doctrine, the same sense, and the same understanding” (Dei Filius, known as the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith,” the last paragraph of which is from the Commonitorium of Saint Vincent of Lerins).

Here at Saint Benedict Center, we accept the true Catholic notion of doctrinal development — a homogeneous development of doctrine which retains the sense of all the ancient dogmas, but adds to them greater clarity and understanding. Centuries of ecumenical councils and papal teachings have given us this. Dom Prosper Guéranger and other great Catholic theologians explain that this kind of orthodox doctrinal development takes place under the influence of the Holy Ghost and by the authoritative dogmatic interventions of the Church’s magisterium. This true doctrinal development will never contradict either tradition or what the Church has taught us from her highest levels. With the Church, we at Saint Benedict Center reject the heterogeneous development of doctrine, condemned by Pope St. Pius X as the “evolution of dogma.”

Keeping in mind what we have just shown from the popes regarding dogma not being subject to evolution, I present here three infallible dogmatic definitions, from popes and councils, that bind the consciences of all Catholics. Please note that these teachings cannot and will not evolve or adopt a sense different from that which they had when they were defined by the Church.

  • “There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside which no one at all is saved.” (Pope Innocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, 1215.)
  • “We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” (Pope Boniface VIII, the Bull Unam Sanctam, 1302.)
  • “The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church.” (Pope Eugene IV, the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441.)

If anyone were to say, concerning these or any other infallible teaching, that, “the Church does not teach that anymore,” then that person, however well-meaning he may be, is espousing the heresy of Modernism.

Yes, this teaching is a “hard saying”; yes, it is a challenge. Much ink has been spilt, and many trees have given their lives, in the effort to soften its jagged edges. All these resources might be spared if we would attend to the wisdom of Father Frederick Faber, the great convert and founder of London’s Brompton Oratory (properly known as the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary). Here he is, considering the theories that that were becoming popular in his day regarding this teaching:

If the Precious Blood had been shed, and yet we had no priesthood, no Sacraments, no jurisdiction, no sacramentals, no mystical life of the visible unity of the Church — life, so it seems, would be almost intolerable. This is the condition of those outside the Church; and certainly as we grow older, as our experience widens, as our knowledge of ourselves deepens, as our acquaintance with mankind increases, the less hopeful do our ideas become regarding the salvation of those outside the Roman Church. We make the most we can of the uncovenanted mercies of God, of the invisible soul of the Church, of the doctrine of invincible ignorance, of the easiness of making acts of contrition, and of the visible moral goodness among men; and yet what are these but straws in our own estimation, if our own chances of salvation had to lean their weight upon them? They wear out, or they break down. They are fearfully counterweighted by other considerations. We have to draw on our imaginations in order to fill up the picture. They are but theories at best, theories unhelpful except to console those who are forward to be deceived for the sake of those they love — theories often very fatal by keeping our charity in check and interfering with that restlessness of converting love in season and out of season, and that impetuous agony of prayer, upon which God may have made the salvation of our friends depend” (The Precious Blood, page 77, emphasis mine).

Dear Readers, Saint Luke’s inspired account of Pentecost is the story of unity — true unity, saving unity in the Catholic Church. By undoing the division of Babel, the Paraclete draws our race into the only unity that God Himself has revealed to man. The Spirit of Pentecost is the Soul of the Church; He makes it One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. The Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, the breath of love of the Father and the Son, is the same Holy Ghost that binds the faithful together in charity and that strengthens us singly in the practice of every virtue.

Whatever chaos happens during these “exciting times,” let us cleave to the Spirit of Truth, and beg His seven-fold gift; for it is His dwelling in us that assures we will not be orphans (cf. John 14:17). Our Lady, Spouse of the Holy Ghost, pray for us!