"Why Grandma, What Big Ears You Have!"
or, Why Real Catholics, like Red Riding Hood, Realize That Recognizing [Spiritual] Wolves Is Not Only Our Right But Our Responsibility
[Updated note: I've decided to leave the current essay up until the end of the month, i.e., Saturday, February 28. This gives me time to send a final bunch of e-mails to the remaining folks on my e-mail list who have not yet been notified of the current essay's presence on the website. (Because I didn't update my website on a weekly basis until this year, many people are not yet in the habit of checking the website weekly for new material.) I also have had an unprecedented amount of computer problems the past two weeks that have made updating my website -- and adding new products to the store -- virtually impossible until now. The new article to be posted sometime Saturday will remain up for a little over a week until Monday, March 9, and from then on a new essay will appear, God willing, each Monday. New products will be added to the store each week, not necessarily on the same day each week. Thank you for your patience and understanding during this time of major technological transition. May God grant you a grace-filled Lent -- your most spiritually fruitful Lent ever.]
February 9, the feast of St. Cyril of Alexandria, is one of my favorite days on the Catholic calendar. To explain why, I'll first need to reiterate what the rather uncompromising, unpopular, politically incorrect message of this apostolate is, the message we strive by God's grace to spread through our world-wide lecture tours and debates, our radio and television appearances, our audio and video recordings, and our website (including our new online store: www.gerrymatatics.org/shop).
The First Part of Our Message
Our message stands squarely on two legs. The first leg is this:
1) The Catholic Faith and the Catholic Church are the one true Faith and the one true Church, and outside of them (as the Church herself has repeatedly and dogmatically defined) there is no salvation.
I don’t expect non-Catholics to simply “take our word” for the truth of the above assertion. On the contrary, as a Catholic apologist I labor to do what the Church has charitably done for two thousand years: I make the case for classic Catholicism step by step, starting from scratch and proceeding by a linear logic to demonstrate:
a) the existence of objective, knowable Truth, and the competence of Reason to perceive that truth and to reject any corresponding error
b) the existence of the one true God (the Blessed Trinity) as the supreme example of the “objective, knowable Truth” already established in “a”
c) the deity of Jesus Christ as the unique incarnation of the one true God whose existence was established in “b”
d) the divine foundation and authority of the Catholic Church as the one Church founded by this same Christ whose divinity was proven in “c”
In other words, starting from zero the apologist must first make the case for the validity of "making the case" for anything -- that is, he must demonstrate that “Truth is knowable”. Then, and only then, can he reasonably make the case for theism -- that is, demonstrate that “[the one true] God exists.” From that conclusion he must then make the case for Christianity, demonstrating that “Christ is God.” Finally he must proceed to the case for Catholicism, the demonstration that “The Catholic Church is Christ’s Church.”
What’s more, not only does each of these assertions logically precede the next one, each logically leads to the next: If truth is knowable, then God exists. If God exists, then Christ is God. If Christ is God, then the Catholic Church is Christ’s Church.
Again, all of this can and must be demonstrated (something I’m of course not doing in the present essay), since various classes of non-Catholics will deny this progression at various points along the line. Atheists, for example, will attempt to deny that if truth exists, then God exists. Jews and Muslims will likewise attempt to deny that if God exists, then Christ is God. Protestants will attempt to deny that if Christ is God, then the Catholic Church is Christ’s Church.
(If you need a book that will show you how to clearly and convincingly prove all four of the above assertions, leading non-Catholics along this logical path, I recommend Fr. Anthony Alexander’s College Apologetics, which I’ve sold for years at my talks and which I’m adding to my new online store tomorrow, God willing. Each week I hope to add at least one new book or CD to the store, by the way, so please check back at least weekly for these new additions – as well as for a new essay here.)
To repeat, therefore: the first leg on which this apostolate stands – the assertion which contains within itself the four sub-assertions labeled “a” through “d” above – is that Catholicism is true.
The Second Part of Our Message
The second leg of my message is an equally demonstrable assertion, but one that most professing Catholics today are nevertheless extremely reluctant to take a stand on. They are, in fact, reluctant even to consider it, even though it inexorably follows, with irresistible momentum, from the facts and arguments used to demonstrate the first assertion (“Catholicism is true”).
In other words, when one draws a straight line through all the points made in the four sub-assertions mentioned above (Truth exists > God exists > Christ is God > The Catholic Church is Christ’s Church) – a line indicating what I call “the trajectory of truth” – then that line, logically extrapolated, passes through this second truth as well.
As I say, the linear logic of classic Catholic apologetics thus leads irresistibly from the first truth to this second truth. If Catholicism is true, therefore, then this second assertion is also true. If this second assertion is unacceptable, however, then Catholicism itself is questionable.
This second assertion, the second leg of our apostolate, is simply this:
2) Though we have Christ’s promise that the indispensible, indefectible Church and Faith whose truth is proven in the first assertion will survive until the end of the world (Mt 16:18), we also have His warning (e.g., in Luke 18:8) that the Church and the Faith will be reduced to a tiny, barely visible remnant in the period preceding His Second Coming.
This immediately raises the question, “What would keep everyone in the world from noticing this drastic reduction in the dimensions of the one true Church?" (Rather like the futuristic submarine in Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage that is rapidly shrunk to microscopic size until it can no longer be seen with the unaided eye.)
The answer is simple, and supplied in Sacred Scripture (2 Thessalonians 2): the near-universal apostasy of the Church’s members will be a disguised apostasy. It will be a masquerade ball, during which the enemies of the Church, having successfully infiltrated her, will then spiritually snuff out, on the installment plan, her members (and particularly her officers) and systematically replace them with devout-looking Doppelgangers, plastic-surgery-produced placeholders (figuratively speaking) – a generation of “genetically altered,” spiritual Stepford wives, or (if you prefer a different cinematic simile) piously posturing “pod people,” like those in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
How? Simply get the Catholic “consumer” to upgrade to the “new, improved version” of the Faith, but first get him so softened up and then spellbound that he never notices the catechetical con, the sanctimonious swindle, the spiritual switcheroo (2 Thessalonians 2:11). With any luck you can get him to thus leave the real Catholic Church and enter a counterfeit Catholic Church without hardly noticing his theological migration.
And that is exactly what Scripture itself indicates will be the case in the last days. No longer will the true Faith be widely accessible. No longer will the true Church occupy its vast global infrastructure. Instead,a cunningly planned coup d’état will cause a counterfeit Catholicism to commandeer the real estate “formerly owned and operated by” the Church – from the local parish to the diocese to Rome itself – with cleverly disguised heretics occupying the offices of the hierarchy, up to and including even the very highest office, the see of Peter itself (2 Thessalonians 2 and related passages in both Old and New Testament).
It is my contention that the evidence is steadily mounting – and has been mounting ever since the election of John XXIII, the calling of the Second Vatican Council, and the spiritual seismic shocks of subsequent events – that this Scripturally-predicted state of affairs is now already in place.
A Common Objection Answered
What has all the above got to do with February 9? Simple. I always have Q & A sessions after all the talks I give all over the world. I also get questions from people via email, also from all over the world. And one of the questions about (or, more precisely, one of the objections to) this second truth usually goes something like this:
“By your own admission, Gerry, as you yourself always emphasize at the beginning and conclusion of all your talks, you’re just a layman, a fallible layman, with no official authorization to speak for the Church. What gives you the right to consider your local parish priest, your bishop, or Benedict XVI a heretic?”
Today – February 9, the feast of St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria and Doctor of the Church – is the perfect day to post on my website my unvarying response to this objection.
For in the reading for today’s feast found in that incomparable treasure-trove of Catholic truth, Dom Guéranger’s fifteen-volume masterpiece The Liturgical Year (a work I have sold at my talks for years and am also adding to our online store later this week), we have a priceless passage that ably answers that objection, and indeed shows the objection to be based on a confused grasp of logic, of the teaching of Sacred Scripture, of the facts of Church history, and of the very nature of our Faith.
After quoting this illustrious Benedictine abbot and theologian, hailed by Pope Pius IX as a giant among the Church leaders of the tumultuous nineteenth century, I will make several comments on how extraordinarily relevant this passage is to our circumstances in the current crisis, and to our need and responsibility to recognize heretics, however highly placed they seem to be even in the Church’s hierarchy.
Here, first, is the passage from the great Guéranger, which I have for ease of reading broken into shorter paragraphs [I have also occasionally added some necessary explanations or clarifications in brackets like these]:
Dom Guéranger on the Nestorian crisis
“It was then [i.e., after the Arian crisis had been addressed in the fourth century, as Guéranger had been relating in the preceding paragraphs] that Satan produced Nestorius, crowned with a fictitious halo of sanctity and knowledge.
“This man, who was to give the clearest expression to the hatred of the serpent for the woman [Guéranger had previously cited God’s prediction in Genesis 3:15 of such a conflict], was enthroned in the Chair of Constantinople amid the applause of the whole East, which hoped to see in him a second Chrysostom [one of Nestorius’s predecessors in the patriarchal see of Constantinople, which by this point – the fifth century – was the most influential office in the Church after the see of Rome itself].
“The joy of the good was of short duration. In the very year of his exaltation, on Christmas Day 428, Nestorius, taking advantage of the immense concourse which had assembled [in the great basilica of Constantinople] in honour of the Virgin Mother and her Child [i.e., for the Christmas Mass], pronounced from the episcopal pulpit [during his homily] the blasphemous words: ‘Mary did not bring forth God; her Son was only a man, the instrument of the Divinity.’ [This false teaching – that Christ was, not one Person with two natures, but two persons: 1) a human person born of Mary, upon whom 2) the second person of the Trinity would later descend – would thereafter become known in history as the “Nestorian” heresy.]
“The multitude shuddered with horror. Eusebius, a simple layman, rose to give expression to the general indignation, and protested against this impiety. Soon a more explicit protest was drawn up and disseminated in the name of the members of this grief-stricken Church, launching an anathema against anyone who should dare to say: ‘The only-begotten Son of the Father and the Son of Mary are different persons.’
“This generous attitude [on the part of the faithful] was the safeguard of Byzantium [the ancient name of Constantinople], and won the praise of Popes and Councils. When the shepherd becomes a wolf the first duty of the flock is to defend itself.
“It is usual and regular, no doubt, for doctrine to descend from the bishops to the faithful, and those whoare subject in the Faith are not to judge their superiors [in the same Faith]. But in the treasure of revelation there are essential doctrines which all Christians, by the very fact of their title as such, are bound to know and defend. The principle is the same whether it be a question of belief or conduct, dogma or morals.
“Treachery like that of Nestorius is rare in the Church [that is, it was rare when Guéranger wrote these words over a century ago!], but it may happen that some pastors keep silence for one reason or another when religion itself is at stake. The true children of Holy Church at such times are those who walk in the light of their baptism, not the cowardly souls who, under the specious [false] pretext of submission to the powers that be, delay their opposition to the enemy in the hope of receiving instructions which are neither necessary nor desirable.”
(Dom Prosper Guéranger, OSB, The Liturgical Year, Volume 4: Septuagesima, reading for feast of St. Cyril of Alexandria, February 9, pp.379-80.)
I have quoted that passage literally at least two hundred times to audiences in recent years. In my estimation, this passage along is worth the price of Guéranger's entire 15-volume set. Allow me to briefly point out a few of the valuable lessons this passage teaches us.
Lesson #1: Heretics Can Occupy Offices in the Hierarchy
The first lesson is this: Sometimes God in his providence permits heretics to seemingly hold high-ranking office in the Church, or permits those initially validly holding high Church office to subsequently fall into heresy.
Clearly this happened in the case of Nestorius, who was in his day the second highest-ranking prelate in the Church. Nor is he the only such example.
At the height of the aforementioned Arian crisis, 97 to 99% of the bishops (at least in the East) fell into heresy. Often other heresies and schisms in the early Church – semi-Arianism, Apollinarianism, Donatism, Eutychianism, Pelagianism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, Iconoclasm, et al – similarly seduced segments of the episcopate. At the time of the English Reformation, all the bishops except St. John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, followed Henry VIII into schism, and into at least implicit heresy, since they denied the pope’s supreme jurisdiction in England. Later, under Henry’s son and successor, the boy-king Edward VI, those bishops who wished to retain their sees went into explicit heresy as well, now on a number of doctrinal points.
In other words, though the Church herself is indefectible – i.e., she will never fall away into non-existence, or even into heresy – this is not true of individual members of the Church, who always have free will and can therefore choose to embrace heresy (as did Nestorius) or schism, or even apostatize altogether. And officers in the church are no exception. As Dom Guéranger put it in the passage cited above, the shepherd can become a wolf.
This is no more than what God Himself tells us in Sacred Scripture. “Beware of false prophets,” Our Lord warns, “who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7:15). And St. Paul, no doubt consciously building on the imagery Christ employed, warned the bishops of Asia Minor that in years to come “ravening wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock. And of your own selves [i.e., from among the body of bishops] shall arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30).
Lesson #2: Heretics Hide Their True Colors
A second lesson is this: These heretics in the Church often possess a reputation for great piety and great learning, and this often neutralizes or weakens the opposition of the faithful to their unorthodox agenda. As Guéranger puts it, "Nestorius [was] crowned with a fictitious halo of sanctity and knowledge."
Both John Paul II and his successor Benedict XVI immediately come to mind in this regard. “He’s so Marian!” “He’s so humble!” “He’s so brilliant!” “He speaks seven languages!”
Don’t let the window dressing fool you. He may be wearing Granny’s cute cap and Granny’s soft, cuddly flannel nightgown (or Granny’s Gucci slippers), but, if one looks closely, the wardrobe won’t be quite enough to hide the lupine ears, paws, or snout.
Again, this employment of masquerade is no more than what the Bible itself says (see Matthew 7:15 cited above). If a wolf wants to spiritually fleece the flock (not to mention feeding on them) he’s going to wear the right costume to the party.
Nor is the design of dressing up as something other than what we really are confined to the liberals of our day, by the way. The same problem plagues the various tribes of traditionalists, too. Just because a false shepherd says the Tridentine Mass doesn’t make everything about him OK.
Lesson #3: Heretics Legally Lose Their Office
A third lesson: Once an officeholder in the Church manifests his heresy (as Nestorius did in his Christmas Day homily), such a heretic no longer holds legal title to his office in the Church.
This follows from two fundamental principles of the Catholic Faith:
1) Heretics are not members of the Catholic Church, since the Church is “one body professing one Faith” (Ephesians 4:4-5).
2) No one can lawfully hold office in a body of which he is not even a member.
That's why canon 188.4 in the 1917 Code of Canon Law states that “Any office [in the Church] becomes vacant automatically [literally, “upon the fact” -- ipso facto in the Latin original] and without any declaration, by tacit resignation recognized by the law itself, if a cleric … publicly defects from the Catholic Faith.”
That's why Pope Paul IV, in his February 15, 1559 bull Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio (which is cited in the footnote to canon 188.4 in the Latin text of the Code), teaches that if a man, prior to his election to any office in the Church, up to and including the papacy itself, “shall have deviated from the Catholic Faith, or fallen into any heresy,” then his election, “even if it shall have been uncontested and by the unanimous consent of the Cardinals, shall be null, void, and worthless.”
Such a man, Pope Paul IV goes onto say, is “deprived automatically, and without need for any further declaration, of all dignity, position, honor, title, authority, office, and power.” Furthermore, Paul IV states, not only clergy but also religious and laity are free “to withdraw with impunity from obedience and devotion to those thus promoted or elevated and to avoid them as warlocks, heathens, publicans, and heresiarchs.”
And that brings us to a fourth and final (for now) lesson.
Lesson #4: Catholics Must Never Be in Communion with Heretics
Well-instructed Catholics are perfectly within their competence and their rights to both discern and decry heretical teaching in their supposed superiors, and to break communion with such heretics.
As Guéranger tells us, “The multitude shuddered with horror. Eusebius, a simple layman, rose to give expression to the general indignation, and protested against this impiety. Soon a more explicit protest was drawn up and disseminated in the name of the members of this grief-stricken Church, launching an anathema against anyone who should dare to say: ‘The only-begotten Son of the Father and the Son of Mary are different persons.’”
Notice: a “simple layman” spoke out. Someone even drew up a formal protest and anathematized anyone who taught what Nestorius was teaching – which obviously included Nestorius himself, their putative shepherd!
To anathematize someone means to state that the person is outside the Church and under the curse of God. The concept is first found in Scripture, in the words of St. Paul in Galatians 1:8-9 regarding the Judaizers of the Church in his day.
Following this Biblical example, the Church in its solemn decrees promulgated at each of its ecumenical (or general) councils always anathematizes those who reject its dogmatic teaching. See the dogmatic canons and decrees of any such council as cited in Denzinger’s Sources of Catholic Dogma.
History tells us that during Nestorius’s heretical homily, the monks who were particularly devoted to Our Lady under her title as the Mother of God (a title Nestorius denied to her) got up and marched out, declaring that they could not be in communion with a heretic. Later they sent a protest to the Roman Emperor himself, beseeching him to intervene an d remove the interloper. (This may be the same “protest” to which Guéranger referred above.)
Supplementary info: The Supplication of the Monks of Constantinople
We actually have the text of this document, entitled The Supplication to the Emperor of the Monks of Constantinople. Both the Greek original and a Latin version can be found in the collection of conciliar documents edited by Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova et Amplissima Collectio (Florence, 1760), Tom. IV, col. 1103. Father Donald J. Sanborn provided both the Latin text and an English translation, as well as an incisive commentary, on pages 78-88 of the Spring 1995 issue of Sacerdotium, a scholarly journal he edited in the 1990s. Here is just one paragraph of the supplication written by the monks:
“Some of the most respected priests have often and openly in public assembly accused Nestorius, who occupies this episcopal see (if, however, it is licit to call him bishop, for the fact that he continues to deny, with obstinate resolve, that Christ by nature is true God and that the holy Virgin is the Mother of God). These same priests have cut off communion with him, and to this day are still not in communion; some have secretly removed themselves from his fellowship; others from among the most sanctified of priests have been denied their faculty to preach, for the reason that, in this holy diocese of Irene by the Sea, they attacked the perverse doctrine which was again sprouting forth. It therefore happened that, as the people were seeking the traditional preaching of the Faith, they publicly cried out: ‘An Emperor we have, but no bishop.’”
Why did the faithful say that they had “no bishop”? Nestorius wasn’t physically gone; he was still very visibly seated on his episcopal throne, preaching heresy and harassing the orthodox! But the faithful understood that, though Nestorius continued to occupy the patriarchal see of Constantinople de facto (in fact), as a heretic he could not do so de jure (in the eyes of the Church’s law). Legally, his see was vacant (or sede vacante, to use the Church's legal terminology).
Lesson #5: The Right Response of the Faithful to the Presence of Heretics in the Hierarchy
Because they knew their Faith, the orthodox clergy, religious, and laity in Constantinople had no hesitation in recognizing Nestorius as a heretic in 428, based on his deviation from the constant teaching of the Church expressed in its ordinary magisterium. They thus refused to be in communion with him, even though it would not be until the Third Ecumenical Council met in Ephesusin 431 that the extraordinary magisterium would formally declare the true doctrine concerning Christ as being one Person and not two, concerning Mary as Mother of God, and would formally condemn Nestorius and declare him to have deposed himself legally by his support for heresy. That council in fact declared that, from the moment he manifested his heresy, all of Nestorius’s acts (e.g., his suspension of priests who preached against him) were completely null and void.
Far from chastising the true believers at Constantinople who dared to denounce Nestorius and who refused to be in communion with him, even years before any official action was taken, Rome on the contrary applauded them for their foresight and courage. As Guéranger put it, “This generous attitude [on the part of the faithful] was the safeguard of Byzantium, and won the praise of Popes and Councils.”
After making that statement Guéranger proceeds to point out that if your rightful superior (e.g., your parish priest, your bishop, your abbot, your pope) professes the same orthodox faith as you, then of course you, as his subject, by definition have no juridical authority over him. But, Guéranger continues, as a Christian you are obliged to know your Faith well enough to be able to recognize when the man above you is no longer preaching that Faith, and thus is no longer your superior. And then you must oppose him as your enemy, and not piously wait for “instructions [whether from Rome or from heaven] which are neither necessary nor desirable.” Such waiting is not necessary, says Guéranger, because you ought to know your faith and how to profess and defend it. Such waiting is not desirable, because in the meantime the heretic invalidly occupying the office can lead many souls astray unless you put them on their guard.
In other words, it's wrong for you to claim that until some future declaration from Rome is forthcoming, you can't tell the good guys from the bad guys. Shame on you! You and I are called to know our Faith so as to be able to recognize deviations from it and respond appropriately. On Judgment Day God will not accept from you and me such paltry excuses as that we're mere fallible lay folk, that we're not the magisterium, that heretics are devious, that intelligent and sincere people differ on such matters as the authority of Vatican II, the validity of the New Mass, or the orthodoxy of Benedict XVI.
Leson #6: Know your Faith!
How can we imitate those noble Constantinopolitan Catholics who refused to be spiritually swindled by their supposed superior?
We must study our Faith diligently, and daily. [Note: the reference works mentioned in this and the following paragraphs are all available from our new online store, www.gerrymatatics.org/shop.] If you don’t have a trustworthy, pre-Vatican II question-and-answer catechism such as The Penny Catechism, start with that. After mastering that, move on the Roman Catechism (also known as the Catechism of the Council of Trent), the most authoritative adult catechism there is, which packs onto the “bare bones skeleton” of a Q & A catechism like the Penny Catechism the “flesh” of a more elaborate exposition of each doctrine. To give but one example of how useful it is in resolving current controversies, the Catechism of Trent contains a wonderful passage, written 400 years before Paul VI’s “New Mass,” explaining why the words “for you and for all” are not appropriate for the formula of consecration of the chalice into Our Lord’s Precious Blood.
Next, get hold of a copy of Denzinger’s Sources of Catholic Dogma, the authoritative anthology of the Church’s magisterial pronouncements. Get, too, a compendium of key papal encyclicals (Denzinger only has brief excerpts): TAN Books has a wonderful collection of sixteen of them (a useful counterweight to the sixteen documents of Vatican II!) entitled The Popes Against Modern Errors, containing the complete texts of the relevant encyclicals of the great popes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Gregory XVI, Leo XIII, Pius X, Pius XI, and Pius XII) which condemn in advance the very doctrines promoted by Vatican II: liberal democracy, religious liberty, ecumenism, salvation for those outside the Church, aggiornamento, and so forth.
Ready to take it to a higher level of doctrinal detail and sophistication? Why not read right through St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae – the greatest scholastic summary of the Catholic Faith written by the greatest Doctor of the Church? Or at least read through a one-volume condensed version of St.Thomas’s magnum opus, such as Msgr. Paul Glenn’s Tour of the Summa, which contains a summarized form, in St. Thomas’s own words, of every question and every article of the unabridged work.
Don’t forget to read your Bible daily – preferably a Haydock Bible, which is the Douay-Rheims with thousands of notes compiled from the Fathers and Doctors of the Church by Fr. George Leo Haydock – to familiarize yourself with what Scripture says about (among other things) the last days.
Read the 1917 Code of Canon Law to understand the canons (such as canon 188.4 cited above) which will enable the informed Catholic to make sense of the current confusion, as well as the canons which will alert you to illicit actions taken by law-breaking “traditionalists” who excuse their antinomian antics by claiming that “the salvation of souls” allows them to ride roughshod over God’s law — as though a lifetime of lawlessness could be expected to result in the salvation of anybody’s soul! Contemporary Catholics tend to be almost completely ignorant of canon law, though ignorance of the law is not a sufficient excuse (even in civil law), as such Catholics will discover to their misery at their judgment.
Read a good history of the Catholic Church to become aware of the previous crises through which the Church has passed. Multi-volume works like those by Mourret-Thompson or Henri Daniel-Rops (both of them out of print but available from used booksellers) are best in terms of the necessary detail they provide, but if you only have the time or the money for a one-volume work, I recommend Fr. Laux’s Church History.
Best of all, read Guéranger’s magnificent Liturgical Year, which contains hundreds and hundreds of passages every bit as instructive as the one we’ve discovered here to illuminate the proper response of Catholics to the presence of manifest heretics in the hierarchy of the Church.
Note: As stated above, all of the reference works mentioned above are available from our new online store, www.gerrymatatics.org/shop. A small book on a spiritually crucial topic is included free with every order.