Thursday 29 September 2022

"This can't end well... Traditional Roman Catholics will need - sooner rather than later - explicitly to acknowledge that they have-used personal discernment, in deciding what (among many rival contesting claims) actually is 'the church' whom they obey

Note: I regard Roman Catholicism as a valid and valuable Christian denomination, and one that seems to contain many of the rare real-Christians who currently exist (so far as I can judge). 

It is precisely because I regard the Roman church as so important to the survival and thriving of Christianity, that I comment upon it - including critically. 

At present, some of the rare real-Christians among Roman Catholics, fall into the category of 'traditionalists' or trads. This is essentially fine and good; but the position has a 'fatal flaw' that renders it fragile in the context of these End Times, where The World is against God, Jesus and Christianity; and all institutions of significant size, power and status to be important in the world, are subject to great and increasing corruption towards the evil strategies of the secular (thus demonic) powers. 

This comment is about the fatal flaw... 


I find it strange to read trad Roman Catholic bloggers who are very obviously making personal discernments - for instance that Francis is an anti-Catholic Pope and agent of (secular, left, totalitarian, globalist) evil. 

And then they suddenly 'panic' and realize that they are failing to be obedient to 'the church' - and 'walk back' everything they have just said, with some kind of 'it's just my opinion and means nothing', and 'the church must and will decide - and correctly', and 'my job is not to pick-and-choose, but just to obey the church'. 

This seems to be a deeply confused and self-contradictory attitude, setting 'the discernment of the heart' against 'obedience' to authority - setting the deepest Christian motivation against traditional definitions of what it is to be Christian, derived from a time where the RCC 'spoke with one voice'...

And therefore a point of fracture that will surely be unable to withstand the pressures being brought to bear on Christian faith, as its institutions (the churches) become absorbed into the unified global bureaucracy. 

Such trads want to be meekly obedient to 'the church' because they believe that is what Roman Catholics ought to be; but they cannot decide what exactly 'the church' is, without first using their personal discernment - which they do not want to do

Yet they Must choose; because there are so many different (and mutually opposed) Roman Catholic voices each claiming to be, or to define, 'the church'. 

And therefore a choice must be made between these rival claimants, and indeed a choice is made. 

But the fact that there has already been a choice must then be denied! 

And is denied. 

And the trads then claim to be living in simple obedience to the single voice of the church (no personal discernment necessary!) - just as a medieval peasant might have done. 

This can't end well...

What is needed is simple... but difficult. 

It is the explicit acknowledgement that even the most traditionalist and orthodox Roman Catholic bases his faith - his obedience - upon personal discernments and choices among the many competing voices of authority. 

After this discernment has been made, and responsibility for it taken by the individual - then it is perfectly rational and consistent to live a traditional Christian life: in obedience to that which has been recognized as legitimate authority. 

But at some point, in some respect; each individual - here-and-now - is compelled to make a choice that has no ultimate basis but his own personal judgment. 

Unless he is clear about this necessary fact; his faith is built on sand, because it is built on a lie. 


R.J.Cavazos said...

Indeed! We are and likely always have been on our own so to speak. Reminded me of a bit of a gem a friend sent this very morning (something in the air me thinks) attributed so a "Jesse" in 2018:

"Suffering is a means by which God saves us, afflicting us so we do not lapse into vain self-sufficiency, a pride and a perverse individualism that gathers us blindly into ourselves, and separates us from His own creation.
To suffer is how we grow in humility, and conform ourselves to do what He commands, rather than as we may will. Prayer is how we sustain ourselves in times of both suffering and joy, with humility in this life, as we resort not only to ourselves or to the world, but to all things with God.

And so we find comfort in His will, and the conversations that we keep with His many tender mercies. The world can not see this, and in not seeing does not understand. To the world we are fools.

His consolations and comforts are hidden, delivered to us in quiet moments, heart to heart. And so He gathers us together to Himself, and keeps us safe, and slowly takes us from this world and the dark powers therein, that search endlessly for souls to make their own, and to devour. "

Jesse, 15 May 2018

Anonymous said...

I’ve answered your confusion at my blog

Bruce Charlton said...

@Gf - Well, some of the trads (who are real Christians) to whom I refer are indeed sedevacantists, such as yourself. It seems to me that the sedevacantist position is a valid one. As is that of SSPX. And others are valid that (apparently) don't have a specific differentiation from the mainstream, such as the position of Archbishop Vigano.

But your remarks don't actually address my point, which is that to reach any of these conclusions one Must use personal, individual discernment about what constitutes valid authority (including what constitutes valid evidence, and valid ways of arguing).

I am simply asking for an explicit acknowledgment that this is what necessarily happens, has happened, and is essential; for *any* kind of serious Catholic conviction.

Ingemar said...

Dr. Charlton,

This is a timely post, coming on the heel's of Mundabor's (link withheld unless permitted) recent post that "yes Francis is a terrible Pontiff, but we have no right to decide that he isn't the Pope".

For my part, when Francis became Pope, I was still outside the Catholic Church. The early years of his pontificate I used to justify remaining outside, yet I converted (reverted, actually) anyway. Why?

Because the Church is greater and above whoever it is occupying the See.

I'm beginning to think that the First Vatican Council was more destructive than the Second, as it was a response from Rome to shore up powers for itself in an attempt to defend itself against secularism, modernity and technocracy. It failed to reverse the physical and secular assaults and only provided the enemies of Christianity a future weapons against Christian discernment.

In this regard, Vatican I is like the Patriot Act of Catholicism.

The Social Pathologist said...

"I am simply asking for an explicit acknowledgment that this is what necessarily happens, has happened, and is essential; for *any* kind of serious Catholic conviction. "

You are absolutely correct here Bruce.

Catholic theology is quite clear on this. A Christian is obliged to follow their conscience, even if factually erroneous, and if that means that they have to leave the Church then they should. So yes, the Sedevacantists are intellectually more "consistent" than the trads.

The problem with the Trads is that they conceptualise Papal authority as "coercive". The Pope's authority being like a military commander: one of rank with subordinate members being "compelled" to accept the direction of the superior. Whereas Papal authority is really "epistimological", much like that of a technical expert in his field. No one is compelled to obey the authority of a specialised physician yet they do have an authority when they speak on matters of health.

Ratzinger gave several good talks on this and he basically agrees with your view.

A Christian is meant to be "engaged" with the truth. There needs to be an active consideration of the principles in question. The problem with the Trad view is that it places obedience above engagement and in the process kills the faith. As Charles Peguy said, Habit is more deadly to the faith than sin.

The papal office then becomes one of "power" instead of "knowledge" and in many ways that Trads operate under the paradigm of the moderns. They're not so much concerned about the truth of things as about following the Pope. The spiritual climate encouraged by such an approach is a huge reason why the faith collapsed so suddenly in the 60's when the "power structures" were lifted. It exposed the Emperor as having no clothes.


I tend to view the First Vatican Council differently, Given that the Papal office is one of Knowledge rather than power, what matters is getting the "transcendentals" right. Infallibility--the limits of which are very strictly defined--anchors Christian teaching in such a way as to be resistant to the prevailing intellectual trends/rot. The Pope, when he is teaching infallibly, has a direct line to God, and therefore does not teach error. Now you're free to reject this notion if you think its hogwash but it also means you have to reject Catholicism if you want to be intellectually consistent.

The problem is that the Trads want it both ways. They want the Authority that comes with infallibility and the obedience required but only as long as they find it agreeable hence the intellectual contortions with their position. Their position can be essentially summed up as "The Pope is infallible as long as I agree with him". How are they any different from the Liberals?

What's also been the problem is that the traditionalist view of the Pope has tended to regard his every utterance as infallible or "part of the teaching magisterium", so "off the cuff" comments are given a weighting which they don't deserve. This has been another "own goal' by the trads who gave the office a near complete command of Catholic intellectual life. A lot of what Francis says is off the cuff and has zero teaching authority but their take on the office makes it so.

They've hoisted themselves on their own petard. I must admit, when I look at Francis, I think God is mocking the Trads, who I think now have a massive case of Ultramontane buyer's remorse.

Paulos Papadoulos said...

They don't see the inconsistency in rejecting the pope while condemning the Orthodox for rejecting the pope first, so I don't think they'll ever come to their senses.

Paulos Papadoulos said...


All the councils held by the Roman church by itself lack any validity. As soon as they added the filoque and split from the East their councils became no more religious than meetings of congress to raise your taxes. And they had already given the pope the ability to fire bishops at will before these councils, so of course the bishops voted for whatever the pope wanted, under duress, as voting for papal infallibility at Vatican One.

Bruce Charlton said...

Most commenters have completely missed the point of this post, and are merely trying to score-off other Roman Catholics who have reached a different conclusion of where authority is, or ought to be, located in the RCC.

Meanwhile, nobody has made explicit the personal assumptions upon which their arguments are based.

70 years ago, Catholics in the most devout nations (Ireland, Poland) had an 'ultramontaine' perspective that regarded the Pope (in Rome, i.e. 'over the mountains - the Alps') as primary source of authority. Influential converts often said that *this* was the special quality of the RCC - that authority was properly authoritative, clear and explicit, with a single man at the apex. (As contrasted with Eastern Orthodoxy, for example.)

A modification was to locate authority with the Magisterium - regarded as a God allocated and inspired 'committee' - including the Pope.

Other converts put forward the idea of unchanging tradition - one true faith through all history - as the basis of authority (apparent changes were regarded as merely making explicit what had been implicit). (This was also the claim of Eastern Orthodoxy - with more justification; but in the *Western* context the Catholic was the *most* traditional denomination available.)

Another idea popular among intellectuals was that the Thomist philosophical theology was the most perfect and comprehensive rational justification of faith, and the only coherent basis for morality - and this was the true (although deep) basis of the church authority. I think this is plausibly true - and anyone who has looked into Aquinas cannot fail to be impressed at the unmatched achievement of rigour with scope. (I came across this idea with EF Schumacher and later Alasdair MacIntyre.) Anyway, for some intellectuals, it was the strength of Thomistic philosophy that provided the foundation for Catholic authority.

Some other Catholics regard the *legal* processes of the church as primary - for example the focus on the faulty resignation language of Benedict XVI, and its breach of the canon law Benedict himself established. Most of the above arguments in comments come under the heading of legalism - lawyeristic disagreements about the proper ranking and interpretation of the legal documents of the church - but with the primary authority of Law as the background assumption.

(In practice, perhaps most Catholics regarded the basis of church authority as the priests they actually encountered - the parish priest, and those in religious orders.)

When the church spoke with - apparently - one voice, such disagreements about the basis of authority, and which authorities outranked others, were of minor or no significance. Mere differences of emphasis.

But now the Roman church is riven by competing claims with respect to authority and correct behaviour, *and yet those engaged in the discourse refuse to declare their own assumptions*.

Whatever authority a modern Catholic chooses to base his life of faith upon; he ought to be explicit about it - and to acknowledge that *none of the choices are self-validating*. Whichever you choose, you will be making assumptions in order to make that choice.

So we see a deep vulnerability; and a vulnerability that cannot be addressed because it is denied (or wilfully ignored).

william arthurs said...

While I have huge respect for the faithfully-held beliefs that have put these Christians in this sort of dilemma: as I say, with respect, many of them are not very good at philosophy, or at recognising a philosophical question ---- which Catholic priests, at least, always used to be trained to do.

Does an act of obedience involve or depend on an act of judgment? My answer is quite simply "yes". And furthermore, if anyone disagrees, we should be able to discuss this philosophically without reference to the evolution of the concept of Papal Infallibility, or what Jesus said to St Peter, and so on (which could rather form part of a narrative of personal discernment that led up to this judgment ---- which is a separate thing).

Pretending that someone else can provide an authoritative answer to this question which one can simply cite, without taking responsibility for adopting it as one's own answer, is just a philosophical error.

Bruce Charlton said...

@wa - That's a good and mostly valid point, when applied to the morality of obedience.

Although I'm not sure if I would regard it as a 'philosophical' error, since probably most of the philosophers of history completely ignore it, and behave as if there was zero gap (and no act of judgment) between a statement or instruction, and its understanding/ adoption!

I think there is another way of regarding obedience as almost non-moral; which is to be obedient to a person without any understanding of the implications - like a young child's obedience. The child may simply do 'what it is told', without knowing what that means.

The decision is in whether or not to obey that person. In young childhood, this obedience is an unconscious, implicit 'given' in life; and something similar applies to ancient societies with one religion that permeated all of life. But such unconscious and unquestioning obedience is not a possibility for older people, nor to these times.

Part of the difficulty in such discussion is in separating obedience as a virtue, when it cannot be separated from other virtues (and any virtue, pursued in isolation, becomes a vice).

Nonetheless, I think we can talk coherently of obedience to legitimate authority as a kind of broad, overarching ideal for many Christians, at least until the modern era. The dissention comes from discerning the legitimacy of authority, and the hierarchy among legitimate sources when these differ.

Again, however, I would not focus on the 'dilemmas' of modern Roman Catholics, as encouraging them to reflect explicitly on their own most fundamental assumptions. If these assumptions could be known and considered and evaluated, many of the dilemmas would be resolved: they would know what they *ought* to do.

David Hartford said...

Good morning Mr Charlton. I would fully agree with you. I for one have many times made my own decernmant on this matter. First when I decided to enter the Catholic Church, then when I discovered what had been taken away after Vatican 2 and became a Traditionalist. I do not judge who is or is not Pope, God will handle that, I simply follow the traditions of the Church. The unchanging laws of God. Have a great day!

Anonymous said...

Hi Bruce, GF again, sorry but you are simply wrong on this. SSPX are NOT Catholics. They have a completely schizophrenic position whee they recognise an obvious heretic (at best) as a valid Pope which they then “resist”. It’s nonsense. It is a dogmatic position that as a Catholic you must obey a valid Pope. Full stop. Or not obey a fake Pope. You can’t have it both ways.

Anonymous said...

As to your point in the reply, well, I thought that was so obvious it doesn’t bear mentioning. It is, and always has been, the position of the Catholic Church that a man must reach the point of wanting to be Catholic of his own volition. That said, once it’s chosen, you can’t pick and choose aspects of it. Catholicism is all or nothing, not mix and match.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Gf - Sticking to the point of the post; I am pointing out that a Roman Catholic in 2022 (especially in The West) *cannot* simply convert to (or affirm) "Roman Catholicism" - because what that means is precisely the subject of massive and growing dispute and divergence.

A 2022 Catholic will be *required* to make *many* other choices in order to deal with the many disagreements within and around 'the church'; and the many people telling him that 'being a Roman Catholic' (and/ or his salvation) depends on believing/ doing this or that different course of action.

This deep reality seems indisputable, yet is denied implicitly by engaging in surface arguments that are rooted in different assumptions about what is the essence of the Roman Catholic Church and where its authority inhere.

Your rejection of SSPX is derived from a different set of assumptions of what is most important (for a Roman Catholic) than would be assumed by a thoughtful representative of SSPX. You should be revealing and discussing these differing assumptions, not acting as if the other side were simply making logical errors.

Anonymous said...

I have further elaborated and I believe focussed in your one point:

Bruce Charlton said...

@Gf - Fine, that's good. Those Roman Catholics who disagree with your assumptions can now see more clearly where their assumptions differ, and whether they personally regard their different assumptions as correct, or not.

I must say, though, it's a bit childish - because clearly false - to assert in your Headline that I don't understand Roman Catholicism At All; simply because we disagree about the institutions essential actuality!

That aside; in particular I disagree 100% and with absolute personal certainty with your first and foundational assumption "1. The Catholic Church is the one and ONLY Church instituted on Earth by God."- and by its implication (I presume) that you assume there is no salvation outside of (whatever you define as) the RCC.

My conviction is rooted in a primary understanding of God the Creator as our Heavenly Father who Loves us all as His individual children - and the utter inconceivability that such a personage would set-up mortal life on this earth (and all its incredible variety of situations through persons, time and place) - and with this mortal life being directed-at salvation - to have such absolute dependence on the contingencies of any possible human institution.

I can understand that - in earlier eras and places - Men did not distinguish the individual from the group in the way that we now cannot help doing. Each Man experienced himself in terms of the groups to which he belonged - mostly by birth. To be separated was not to be himself.

Therefore life and salvation used to be (necessarily) conceptualized in terms of groups. men were (mostly unconsciously, unaware of any alternatives) immersed in the groups into which they were born and grew. The religions that grew were spontaneously church-based and church-led - nothing else was even possible; and that was good and right for those times and places.

But now, especially in The West, almost the opposite is the case. We find it difficult or impossible to consider ourselves primarily in terms of our group membership; and confront an alienated world, cut off inside our own consciousness - and often seeking escape from this alienation by distraction and drugs.

We must now (and indeed do, in practice) accept own our ultimate responsibility for our personal salvation; and I think it is unhelpful to pretend otherwise; and try (but fail) to make 'obedience' primary - when what the ancients considered obedience is literally impossible in a situation when we Must *choose* who exactly to believe and obey; and must choose frequently.

It might be said that our great task nowadays is to become conscious of (and understand) much that was previously unconscious (and implicit); and then to take responsibility for our choices.