June 13, 2019 (Steven O’Reilly) – Last week I received a copy of Dr. Roberto de Mattei’s new book, entitled “Love for the Papacy and Filial Resistance to the Pope in the History of the Church.” I find this collection of articles and lectures on this topic by Dr. De Mattei to be both timely and useful. I highly recommend his book.
Dr. De Mattei’s book provides a needed reflection on the subject of “Filial Resistance” in our time of great crisis in the Church when some cardinals, bishops, theologians and the laity are offering “resistance” to the Pope. This resistance has taken various forms, ranging from Cardinals submitting Dubia to the Pope, laity submitting filial appeals, theologians accusing the Pope of heresy (i.e., the Open Letter), and recently two cardinals and three bishops issuing a Declaration of Truths.
With his background as a historian, Dr. De Mattei brings a needed perspective to the question of whether “filial resistance” is ever licit or not. In so doing, he discusses various controversies and papal errors of the past. His work, I think, should help the faithful and open-minded Catholic navigate the treacherous waters between the Scylla of so-called “Benevacantism” on the one side, and the Charybdis of apostasy (i.e., based on the mistaken belief Christ’s Petrine promises have been falsified).
The Church both lived through and grew over its first three centuries despite fierce persecutions under the Roman emperors. Then, after emerging victorious with the victory of Constantine and the Edict of Milan (313 AD), the Church was then confronted by the first of the major Christological heresies, i.e., the Arian and semi-Arian heresies of the fourth century A.D.
One cannot help but see the similarities of the age of the Arian crisis to our own. At one one point there were only a handful of orthodox bishops, at a time ‘when the world groaned to find itself Arian.’ It is easy to draw the parallels of that time to our own, when one sees a small handful of the same cardinals and bishops rising up to the attacks upon the faith. Distressingly to Catholics, those attacks have originated with the Pope. Dr. De Mattei’s review of the Arian crisis gives force to his conclusion that “There are times when a Catholic is obliged to choose between cowardice and heroism, between apostasy and holiness. This is what happened in the fourth century and it is what is happening today” (p. 22).
Dr. De Mattei proceeds, I believe, in an orderly manner with his material. For example, in a case relevant to our time when there is discussion of the possibility, indeed likehood of papal error, he discusses the case of Pope Honorius, who was anathematized posthumously by the Sixth Ecumenical Council. In our time, many are those who defend any act of Pope Francis as “magisterial.” Thus, to them, any “resistance” to Francis is an act of unjustified rebellion against the Supreme Pontiff. However, in his treatment of the anathematized Pope Honorius, Dr. De Mattei rightly observes that pope’s acts while “undoubtedly magisterial” were acts of the “non-infallible ordinary Magisterium.”
Thus, the point is clear for us, that the non-infallible, magisterial acts of a pope, i.e., Honorius, are not above criticism and reproach. One then thinks of the implications for Pope Francis, especially in light of the recent Open Letter which outlined an accusation of heresy against him. Thus, while is it troubling to Catholic sensibilities to hear a pope, whether Honorius or Francis, accused of potential heresies; Dr. De Mattei reminds his reader that “The pope can fall into heresy, but cannot ever pronounce heresy ex cathedra” (p. 28). And, it is in such cases the pope may be resisted. To this end, Dr. De Mattei quotes Pope Hadrian II who, speaking in 869 AD of the appropriateness of anathema upon Honorius, explained “the reason is that Honorious was accused of heresy, the only cause for which it is licit to inferiors to resist their superiors and repel their perverse sentiments” (p. 28, italics added by Roma Locuta Est).
Dr. De Mattei provides interesting overviews of important events and confusing times in Church history, such as the Great Schism–when there were as many as three popes at one time. He also provides an interesting discussion on the “Three revolutions and Fatima,” i.e., the Protestant revolt of 1517, the founding of the Grand Lodge of London in 1717 and the Russian revolution of 1917, in which year, of course, the apparitions of Fatima also occurred.
Overall, all these topics in Dr. De Mattei’s work help establish the historical precedents and themes for the troubled Catholic to better understand this time of crisis. The book, as the title suggests, also helps the Catholic understand there are times when “filial resistance” to even a pope is necessary–even required. Dr. De Mattei’s surveys various historical cases of popes or hierarchs who were rightfully resisted for their acts, errors and heresies. Perhaps most notable among these cases is that of Pope John XXII, who preached certain erroneous views on the Beatific Vision in several public sermons. This pope was confronted by theologians of his time, who believed Pope John XXII’s views were heretical. While as Dr. De Mattei notes, the particulars on the question in dispute had yet been defined at the time as dogma, “the thesis sustained by John XXII must be considered formally heretical” (p. 43). Fortunately for the Church, Pope John XXII recanted his erroneous opinions before his death, and he never imposed his views on the Church in a definitive form.
Still, one might imagine the consternation, confusion and scandal a Pope John XXII might have caused in his or our own day had his views been available via daily tweets or airplane press conferences. However, that is indeed what we have in Pope Francis. Yet, there are some who even suggest Pope Francis’ answers, at least in one such airplane press conferences, is magisterial (1). But, while there are those who wish to make many or all of Pope Francis’ acts into infallible interventions of the Magisterium, there is no specific teaching of his to my knowledge–nor have any been produced by such ‘supporters’ or ‘defenders’ of Francis–where the specific conditions necessary for an infallible definition are present.
For example, in Amoris Laetitia, even Pope Francis stated early on in this Apostolic Exhortation that it is not an intervention of the Magisterium (see AL 3). Some have tried to make much of the Pope placing the Buenos Aires guidelines and the Pope’s approval of their interpretation of Amoris Laetitia into the AAS–and that this makes them “authentic magisterium.” However, first, it is not clear what this placement really means (2) as even ‘supporters’ of Francis disagree among themselves. Regardless, it is clear that even assuming the strongest possible magisterial meaning of the Buenos Aires guidelines and its placement in the AAS, this still would not be a defining, infallible act of the Magisterium.
But, ‘supporters’ and ‘defenders’ of various errors allege that one must give “adherence” to such “magisterial” acts, even when they are not infallibly taught (3) per the instruction of Donum Veritatis. However, Dr. De Mattei uses the case of John XXII to make an important point, which the ‘supporters’ and ‘defenders’ overlook. Dr. De Mattei writes:
“The heterodox teaching of John XXII was certainly an act of the ordinary Magisterium regarding the faith of the Church, but not infallible, as it was devoid of a defining nature. If we had to apply the Instruction of Donum Veritatis (May 24, 1990) down to the letter, this authentic teaching, even if not infallible, should have been received as a teaching given by pastors, who through the Apostolic Succession speak “with the gift of truth” (Dei Verbum 8), “endowed by the authority of Christ,” “by the light of the Holy Spirit” (Lumen Gentium 25). His thesis would have required the degree of adhesion called “religious obsequium [submissive assent] of will and intellect, rooted in trusting divine assistance to the Magisterium,” and thus “within the logic of the faith under the impulse of obedience to the faith.” (p. 43-44).
So, if we were to accept the arguments of the ‘supporters’ and ‘defenders’ of Pope Francis, there would be no way to justify the actions of the theologians who protested John XXII’s preaching on the Beatific Vision. They themselves, and not John XXII, would be considered in error for questioning John XXII– or so the force of the Francis-defender’s logic would have us believe. But, of course, this logic is erroneous. The theologians in the time of John XXII were correct, and they properly “resisted” an erroneous pope.
Dr. De Mattei provides an enlightening discussion of “Resistance and Fidelity to the Church in Times of Crisis,” which is certainly instructive for Catholics in these times. The comments in this chapter, it seems to me, also address the points of those ‘supporters’ of Pope Francis who would demand Catholics accept the many questionable statements Francis has made or written. Speaking of the sensus fidelium, the author writes in part:
“It should be remembers that the Church is the Mystical Body of which Christ is the Head, the Holy Spirit the Soul, and the faithful, from the pope down to the last baptized person, are the members. The Church as a whole, however, should not be confused with the churchmen that form her. The Church is impeccable, infallible, indefectible. Churchmen, individually taken, are not, with the exception of the pope or council gathered under his name to define solemnly a question of faith, whose task, under the proper conditions, has the privilege of infallibility. In the absence of the required conditions, the pope or a council can err, and those who consider them always infallible fall into the error of papolatry (or councilolatry) that leads to wrongfully attributing to the Church per se a responsibility for the many failures, and errors of some popes who have governed her.” (p. 122)
In considering Dr. De Mattei’s words above, if Catholics only opens their eyes, they can see that papolatry and councilolatry are two errors that have thrived in the hearts and minds of many Catholics over the last sixty or so years. To have seen, for example, the many calamities (e.g., the precipitous drop vocations, liturgical abuses) that have befallen the Church since Vatican II, but to still hold the council blameless in all regards is simple councilolatry. To dismiss complaints of at least certain aspects of Pope John Paul II’s ecumenistic endeavors, e.g., prayer meetings in Assisi or kissing of a Koran (NB: By the way, did the muslim cleric kiss the New Testament or a Crucifix in return?), or to dismiss the doctrinal problem of Pope Francis’ Abu Dhabi statement are forms of papolatry. But, certainly, in the case of Pope Francis, the problem of papolatry goes much deeper into doctrinal areas surrounding the death penalty, communion for the divorced and civilly remarried, etc.
While Pope Francis has caused confusion, what is perhaps more disappointing is the near utter silence of the episcopate and the College of Cardinals in confronting this confusion head on. What is the explanation of how–in a time when important doctrinal questions are on the minds of the laity and are raised in various public documents (e.g., the Dubia, the Open Letter, the “Declaration of Truths”)–that no other bishops or cardinals have responded to the calls to defend the walls of the City of God? Is it papolatry? Or, is it simple cowardice in a body of milquetoast bishops? Is it related to the many questions, still unanswered, involving the potential corruption of the bishop-selection process in the age of McCarrick?
Dr. De Mattei’s book helps answer the question as to whether “filial resistance” is ever licit and necessary. The answer is a resounding “yes.” It also the case that there must be such “filial resistance” to Pope Francis. The unanswered question–beyond the scope of Dr. De Mattei’s book–is….where are the great majority of bishops? Where is their “filial resistance?”
Whatever the case, what the faithful Catholic sees is that their bishops seem to be go-along to get-along, fund-raising bureaucrats of local NGOs rather than Successors of the Apostles who see themselves first and foremost as protectors of the Deposit of the Faith. Like the time of Athanasius, the good bishops are but a paltry handful. There appears to be no hope in sight. But, it is precisely for such Catholics–i.e., those who see the doctrinal and moral problems in the Church today, and who are understandably confused by it all–that I recommend Dr. Mattei’s book. Regardless of what others of whatever rank may do, or not do, the responsibility of defending the truth and resisting error remains with each and every Catholic.
This brief book review cannot do Dr. De Mattei’s handy-dandy collection of essays and lectures the justice it deserves. I highly recommend it. Whether the historical periods, events and cases surveyed by him might be new to the reader or not, these examples–with the addition of Dr. Mattei’s insightful commentary–are healthy and timely reminders to Catholics that the Church has seen much of the same turmoil and confusion before in its history.
Thus, there is some comfort to be found in a better understanding of such times in Church history. In Church history, one knows there have been times, as in the age of Athanasius and, perhaps, our own, when only a small handful of bishops remained true to the Faith. In the history of the Church, one sees that the faithful were on a number of occasions confronted by the confusing spectacle of erroneous popes. It may seem, and perhaps it is our lot, to live in a time which aggregates, combines and even compounds and multiplies all the worst aspects of all these crises, controversies, and errors together—-but to an even greater degree. But, whether that is the case or not, the Church will always survive–because there will always be Catholics, even if few in number, who will defend the truth and resist error.
When one is prone or tempted to sink into despair over our own times, one might remember Dr. Mattei’s observation that “The Church always advances through history forever victorious…” (p. 17). His words, which I quoted earlier regarding the time of the Arian crisis, apply to our own: “There are times when a Catholic is obliged to choose between cowardice and heroism, between apostasy and holiness.” This is our time. This is our choice. Therefore, choose heroism and holiness, remembering, the victory has already been won by Our Lord.
Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. A former intelligence officer, he and his wife, Margaret, live near Atlanta with their family. He has written apologetic articles and is working on a historical-adventure trilogy, entitled Pia Fidelis, set during the time of the Arian crisis. The first book of the Pia Fidelis trilogy. The Two Kingdoms, should be out later this summer or by early fall (Follow on twitter at @fidelispia for updates). He asks for your prayers for his intentions. He can be contacted at StevenOReilly@AOL.com (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA).
(1) Stephen Walford is one such example.
(2) Various supposed ‘defenders’ of Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia allege contradictory things, both about the meaning of Amoris Laetitia, its level of magisterial authority, and the meaning of the Buenos Aires guidelines being placed in the AAS (see Confusion at Vatican Insider?)
(3) Mr. Walford makes such an argument, here. I discuss some of these various arguments in past articles (see A simple question for Mr. Walford regarding the “adherence of the faithful”? and A question Mr. Walford will never answer about dissent).