Shining a Little Light on the Path to Keeping Sane in this Crisis


Principles are guides used to aid in decision making.  It stands to reason that bad principles will lead to bad decisions.(Adapted from: SSPX AND THE RESISTANCE - A COMPARISON OF ECCLESIOLOGY)

The recent interactions between Rome and the SSPX has challenged a number of closely held cultural assumptions of people in both sides of the disagreement. This has resulted in cultural skirmishes in both Rome and the SSPX.

Since it is the smaller of the two, the skirmishes have been more evident within the SSPX.  The cultural fault-line that Bishop Fellay crossed appears to be linked to two points of Catholic Doctrine: Ecclesiology and Obedience.  The cultural difference of view points is strong enough that it has resulted in the expulsion of a number of members.  It should also be noted that some other priests expelled since the beginning of the latest interactions (starting in 2000) held the same view points and have joined with the latest departees in a 'loose association'.

The argument can be summed up as thus: The 'resistance' claims that the SSPX has abandoned the principles of its founder, the SSPX asserts that they have done nothing of the sort.

In spite of the inability to appeal to a competent judge in this matter, it is possible to turn to Church teaching in order to make a determination who has abandoned Catholic principles and therefore whose decisions are lacking in moral righteousness.

Where is the Church of Christ?

Setting aside the ambiguous rhetorical devices such as 'newchurch' and 'conciliar church', I believe that the answer to this question is vital. Given our condition as Catholics, if we were to succeed in separating ourselves from the Church, we would be damned as in our case there is no possibility of invincible ignorance as we know that Christ established the Church. Therefore, we should know where the Church is and remain within her fold.

What is the Church of Christ?

The first step in determining where is the Church of Christ, is to have an  understanding of 'What' is the Church of Christ.

St. Robert Bellarmine provided the following definition:
“the assembly of men united in the profession of the same Christian faith and in the communion of the same sacraments, under the rule of legitimate pastors, and in particular, that of the one Vicar of Christ on earth, the Roman Pontiff.”
This is a commonly accepted definition of what is the 'Church' although the readers are directed to the encyclical Mystici Corporis for a deep explanation of the Mystery of the Church.

Now that we are furnished with a rudimentary understanding of 'what' is the Church, we can now determine its "location".

I will use the following foundations for my analysis in answering this question:
  • The Catechism of the Council of Trent.
  • The First Vatican Council
  • Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Dr. Ludwig Ott
I open with the words contained in the introduction to the explanation of the article "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church" found in the Catechism of Trent:
Since, therefore, it is impossible that anyone be infected with the contagion of heresy, so long as he holds what this Article proposes to be believed, let pastors use every diligence that the faithful, having known this mystery and guarded against the wiles of Satan, may persevere in the true faith. (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

The Marks of the Church of Christ

What are the four marks by which one can recognize the Church of Christ?  One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic! Every Catholic should know this answer, but do they know how the Church understands the answer - in detail?

Following the Catechism of Trent we find the following explanations:

Apostolic: The Church of Christ can be recognized by its Apostolic origin, for "the Holy Ghost, who presides over the Church, governs her by no other ministers than those of Apostolic succession".

Catholic: The Catholic Church is Universal, "embraces ... all mankind" and includes "all the faithful who has existed from Adam to the present day, or who shall exist, in the profession of the true faith, to the end of time".  Finally, the Church is called Universal because "all who desire eternal salvation must cling to and embrace her".

Holy: The Church is Holy for the following reasons: it is consecrated and dedicated to God; because the Church, as the Mystical Body of Christ, is united to its head: Our Lord Jesus Christ; and lastly the Church has the true worship of God.

The Catechism of Trent closes this explanation with the following:
... the Church alone has the legitimate worship of sacrifice, and the salutary use of the Sacraments, which are the efficacious instruments of divine grace, used by God to produce true holiness. Hence, to possess true holiness, we must belong to this Church. The Church therefore it is clear, is holy, and holy because she is the body of Christ, by whom she is sanctified, and in whose blood she is washed.
It is also critical to note ...
"... that the Church, although numbering among her children many sinners, is called holy. ... so in like manner the faithful, although offending in many things and violating the engagements to which they had pledged themselves, are still called holy, because they have been made the people of God and have consecrated themselves to Christ by faith and Baptism. ..."

At this point, I think it is beneficial to reflect upon another essential attribute of the Church of Christ: Indefectibility.
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. (Ott pg 296)
This attribute is important because, it means that even now the Church is the "Institution of Salvation". Dr. Ott explains further that in their essence the teaching, constitution and liturgy of the Church are immutable.

Keeping this doctrine of the Church in mind, we find that the Apostolicity, Catholicity and finally Holiness cannot be not separated from the Church of Christ. If this were possible she would be severed from either the Apostolic Succession, or the faithful departed or from her holy Head, Our Lord Jesus Christ. In any of these cases the promise of Christ that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church would be made empty.

Finally we can now consider the first 'Mark' of the Church of Christ: Oneness, or more succinctly the Church of Christ can be known by its Unity.

For this Mark of the Church I will draw on three sources: The Catechism of Trent, The documents of the First Vatican Council and finally the Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Dr. Ott.

The authors of the Catechism divide their explanation into Unity of Government and Unity in Spirit, Hope and Faith.

Concerning Unity of Government the doctrine is clear and precise: Christ is the invisible  of "the Church, which is his body", the visible "governor" is the Pope "the legitimate successor of Peter".

Of the Pope, the authors further explain, that the Fathers of the Church are unanimous in teaching that the "visible head is necessary to establish and preserve unity in the Church".

Given Luther's attack on the primacy of the Pope it is understandable why the emphasis was placed on explaining the role of the Pope as the Vicar of Christ. In fact, the authors of the Catechism of Trent expended four to five times as many lines expounding on the unifying role of the Pope vs the following passage.

In the brief passage of Unity in Spirit, Hope and Faith, the authors wrote:
 Moreover, the Apostle, writing to the Corinthians, tells them that there is but one and the same Spirit who imparts grace to the faithful, as the soul communicates life to the members of the body. Exhorting the Ephesians to preserve this unity, he says: Be careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace; one body and one Spirit. As the human body consists of many members, animated by one soul, which gives sight to the eves, hearing to the ears, and to the other senses the power of discharging their respective functions; so the mystical body of Christ, which is the Church, is composed of many faithful. The hope, to which we are called, is also one, as the Apostle tells us in the same place; for we all hope for the same consummation, eternal and happy life. Finally, the faith which all are bound to believe and to profess is one: Let there be no schisms amongst you, says the Apostle. And Baptism, which is the seal of our Christian faith, is also one.
I imagine that at reading this direct quotation from the Catechism of Trent a number of people will begin rationalizing that the 'Modern Catholics' are not professing the faith as noted above and jumping to a bunch of conclusion based on that thought.  Please be patient, I will address that objection in due time.

The Fathers of the First Vatican Council put forth the following more detailed explanation:
"The eternal shepherd and guardian of our souls, in order to render permanent the saving work of redemption, determined to build a church in which, as in the house of the living God,all the faithful should be linked by the bond of one faith and charity.
In order, then, that the episcopal office should be one and undivided and that, by the union of the clergy, the whole multitude of believers should be held together in the unity of faith and communion, he set blessed Peter over the rest of the apostles and instituted in him the permanent principle of both unities and their visible foundation. "  (Session 4 of the First Vatican Council:
Instead of explaining this in my own words, I will rely upon Dr. Ott:
One may, with the Vatican Council, distinguish a two-fold unity of the Church:
Unity of Faith
This consists in the fact that all members of the Church inwardly believe the truths of faith proposed by the teaching office of the Church, at least implicitly, and outwardly confess them. ... Unity of Faith leaves room for various opinions in those controversial questions which the Church has not finally decided. 
Unity of Communion
This consists, on the one hand, in the subjection of the members of the Church to the authority of the bishops and of the Pope (unity of government or hierarchical unity) ; on the other hand, in the binding of the members among themselves to a social unity by participation in the same cult and in the same means of grace (unity of cult or liturgical unity).
The unity of both faith and of communion is guaranteed by the Primacy of the Pope, the Supreme Teacher and Pastor of the Church (centrum unitatis : D 1960). One is cut off from the unity of Faith by heresy and from the unity of communion by schism.
St. Thomas declares that the unity of the Church is founded on three elements: The common faith of all members of the Church, the common Hope of eternal life, and the common Love of God and of one another in mutual service. Fidelity to the unity of the Church is a condition for the attaining of eternal salvation. 

Visibility of the Church

There is one last aspect of the Church to consider prior to moving on ... the 'visibility of the Church'.  Here are four explanations of the visibility of the Church.
When we speak of the visibility of the Church, we do not mean simply that her members, her rites, and her ministry can be seen. What we mean is that these can be recognized to constitute the true Church of Christ ; so that, in other words, we can point out a certain society, and say of it "This is Christ's Church." ...In order to understand this property of visibility, we  must carefully note the distinction between the body and the soul of the Church. The former consists of those external elements which go to make a society, viz. the ministry of the pastors and subordination of the sheep, the profession of the faith and participation in the sacraments ; the latter means the internal gifts of sanctifying grace, of faith and charity, and other virtues. The external elements are necessary for the Church's social existence ; the internal elements must be possessed by her members if they would attain the end for which they were called to the Church, i.e. eternal salvation. (A Manual of Catholic Theology - Wilhelm and Scannell 1908)
Fr. Hunter has the following to say concerning the visibility of the Church:
The Church Visible.—It remains for us to show that the Church is perennially visible. For a society of men to be visible, in the sense in which the word is used in Theology, it is not enough that the individuals composing it should be visible, in the sense in which all men are capable of being seen ; but the fact of their being associated must be visible: that is to say, the bond of union among them must be of its own nature cognoscible by the senses, and it must be of such magnitude as to attract attention to itself. (Outline of Dogmatic Theology - Fr. Hunter S.J. 1898)
Fr. George Hayward Joyce S.J. wrote the following for the Catholic Encyclopedia in 1908:
In asserting that the Church of Christ is visible, we signify, first, that as a society it will at all times be conspicuous and public, and second, that it will ever be recognizable among other bodies as the Church of Christ. These two aspects of visibility are termed respectively "material" and "formal" visibility by Catholic theologians. The material visibility of the Church involves no more than that it must ever be a public, not a private profession; a society manifest to the world, not a body whose members are bound by some secret tie. Formal visibility is more than this. It implies that in all ages the true Church of Christ will be easily recognizable for that which it is, viz. as the Divine society of the Son of God, the means of salvation offered by God to men; that it possesses certain attributes which so evidently postulate a Divine origin that all who see it must know it comes from God. (Catholic Encyclopedia - The Church, George Joyce, 1908) 
 Finally, Dr. Ott sums up the visibility of the Church in the following manner:
The Church founded by Christ is an external visible commonwealth (sent. certa.) ... A threefold sensible bond binds the members of the Church to one another, and makes them known as such: the profession of the same Faith, the use of the same means of grace, and the subordination to the same authority. (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma - Ott 1954)

Conclusions Concerning The Four Marks, Visibility and Indefectibility

The observant reader will have noted that there is an interplay between the identified elements of the Church.

Of all the elements discussed, that of Indefectibility permeates the others in a most particular manner.

The visibility of the Church, as noted above, is due to the four marks of the Church and must be present throughout the ages in a continual manner.  Any discontinuity, such as a 'transfer' of the marks from one entity to another breaks said continuity and would also break at least one of the 'Marks'.

The four marks themselves are also, by necessity, contiguous with the indefectibility of the Church due to their nature.

As the Holiness of the Church stems from her invisible Head, as well as her consecration to God, given the promise of Christ (indefectibility) it is not possible that this union between Christ and His Church be severed.

As the Catholicity of the Church stems from the profession of the true Faith as the link between all members of the Universal (Catholic) Church past, present and future, as well as the necessity of belonging to the Church for salvation, the Church is protected from alterations of the de fide Teachings of the Faith.

This naturally leads to the Apostolic succession, both from the continual episcopal succession from the Apostles to the bishops of today to the continual safeguarding of the Apostolic creed.  Again, in order to breach this mark, the Church would have to sever its ties with the Apostles in a formal way and indefectibility safeguards against this risk.

Lastly we have the Mark of Unity (Faith and Communion/Government). Here the influence of indefectibility has been explicitly taught concerning the papacy and its roll in perpetuating the unity of Faith and Communion / Government. Ultimately, the Papacy is the visible foundation of the visibility of the Church.  Without the Pope, the rock upon which Christ built His Church, all other constructs tumble in ruins.  This is witnessed with great ease when examining the doctrinal corruption that is ongoing within the heretical and even schismatic entities that have separated themselves from the principle of unity - the Papacy.

So where is the Indefectible, Visible, One, Holy, Catholic Apostolic Church of Christ?

Or put another way where is the continual uninterrupted “assembly of men united in the profession of the same Christian faith and in the communion of the same sacraments, under the rule of legitimate pastors, and in particular, that of the one Vicar of Christ on earth, the Roman Pontiff.”

Given that the doctrine of the Faith, Sacraments and Vicar of Christ are found intact only in the "assembly of men" united under Pope Francis, that is where we find the Church of Christ - even in these days of crisis within the Church.

If a person claims the name of Catholic and refuses to acknowledge this fact, they should be wary that they aren't being described by the following words:
"For in after ages there would not be wanting wicked men who, like the ape that would fain pass for a man, would claim that they alone were Catholics, and with no less impiety than effrontery assert that with them alone is the Catholic Church." Catechism of Trent


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