Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Why don’t we try trusting the Holy Spirit?

I was going to hold my tongue, please believe me. I’d already written a “Circular Catholic Firing Squad” post last week. I’ve already written posts explaining what I find valuable and admirable about traditionalism, what I dislike about a certain kind of traditionalist, and what’s wrong with sedevacantism (which is not coterminous with traditionalism).

Nope; no matter how many spittle-flecked nutties the Usual Suspects would throw about Pope Francis praying with Patriarch Bartholomew I (Eastern Orthodox), Israeli president Shimon Peres (Jewish) and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas (Moslem), I wasn’t going to say bubkes.

Then, a more popular blogger than I, with whom I’m “Facebook friends” and whom I’ll decline to identify, posted a quick status note: “Can we please stop showing love and concern toward false religions and start showing love to those who follow them?” This, taken by itself, wasn’t bad. But what followed was ugly:

But wait. That would imply that we care about their souls. The pope doesn’t seem concerned about that, so I guess I shouldn’t be either? … There needs to be a schism, so that people who want to be Catholic will have a chance to. We can get ourselves a Catholic pope, too.

That did it. I blew up: “Here’s a wild idea: Why don’t we try trusting the leadership and guidance of the Holy Spirit promised to the Apostles (John 14:36, 16:13) instead of nitpicking every act of the Pope for signs of apostasy? I’m not saying you have to love everything he does, or that he’s above criticism. I will say, though, that schism’s been tried before; you can see how well THAT worked out.”

What’s really at issue here? The concern of the traditionalists is that, by praying together with Jews and Moslems, Pope Francis is giving people the impression that Islam and Judaism are true, that one doesn’t need to convert to be saved. The Church still formally holds, as was defined at the Fourth Lateran Council, that “The universal Church of the faithful is one outside of which none is saved” (extra quam nullus omnino savatur, or, more commonly, “extra Ecclesia nulla salus est”; D 430).

The strict definition of extra Ecclesia created a rather disturbing difficulty: What about people who seek the will of God but, through invincible ignorance, either didn’t know the Faith or had only been exposed to a corrupted version of it? Were they condemned to Hell despite their lack of culpability? In fact, Pius IX clarified this position in his allocution Singulari Quadam:

For, it must be held by faith that outside the Apostolic Roman Church, no one can be saved; that this is the only ark of salvation; that he who shall not have entered therein will perish in the flood; but, on the other hand, it is necessary to hold for certain that they who labor in ignorance of the true religion, if this ignorance is invincible, are not stained by any guilt in this matter in the eyes of God. (D 1647; bold type mine)

It’s vital to note that this passage comes in the context of a papal document condemning indifferentism (the belief that all religions are equally true and valuable, and that consequently it doesn’t matter really what kind of god you follow). Vatican II, in Lumen Gentium 14-16, filled out this exculpatory clause a little further, granting that other religions and communions, especially those of our separated brothers and sisters, had value so far as they were true and led people to seek the will of God. The idea is that, while the Church is necessary and has a mission, at the end of the day God judges souls and not associations, and can intervene to save whomever pleases Him.

My rant continued:

And where did we get the idea that conversion and care of souls required contempt and disrespect for their religious beliefs? Think of St. Paul and the Athenians [Acts 17:22-31]: He built on what was true and good with the Greeks’ beliefs rather than showering disrespect on their entire mythos. I just don’t see the prayer meeting as an endorsement of either Judaism or Islam or Indifferentism; it’s not a logically necessary deduction.

Now, here’s my point about trusting the Holy Spirit:

As I’ve argued here and here, the cardinal difficulty of both Protestantism and sedevacantism is that, by claiming that the Catholic Church has fallen into error at any point since its foundation in the Upper Room, you can’t help but imply that the Holy Spirit went away or fell asleep on the job, allowing the gates of Hell to prevail, in contradiction to Christ’s promise (Matthew 16:18) and not incidentally in denial of the faithfulness of God (cf. Romans 3:3-4; 2 Timothy 2:13). In fact, in The Impractical Catholic, I drew the full argument out using formal symbolic logic.

Now, the infallibility of the Church has some limits as to what it covers:

  • It doesn’t insure that everything the reigning Pontiff does will be beyond valid criticism. 
  • It won’t protect the Pope from occasionally looking like a stumbling fool. 
  • It won't protect us from having a greedy, licentious villain like Alexander VI on the Throne of Peter.
  • It won’t protect the Pope from being a timid vacillator, as was reputed of Ven. Paul VI. 

To be an ultramontanist is not perforce to be blind to the human frailties and follies of any given successor to St. Peter. I, for one, wish Pope Francis would rein in his enthusiasm long enough to think through what he wants to say.

But the whole point of the doctrine of infallibility is that, to paraphrase Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, USMC, one SOB in four or five can’t ruin the Catholic Church. Saith The Blogger Who Must Not Be Named, “… the Spirit’s gift of infallibility presumes that the Church is composed of dunderheads and sinners. I sometimes suspect that the reason Jesus picked the disciples he did — and especially Peter — was to highlight the fact that it is [the Holy] Spirit, not the personal sanctity or genius of his followers, that holds the whole shooting works together.”

Katrina Fernandez rightfully points out that, “as lay practicing Catholics, we can’t do a toot about the pope’s personal style and demeanor. He’s going to do things how he’s going to do them. We can’t change the pontiff and it’s arrogant of us to try or expect him to change for us.” We also can’t control what impression everyone gets, especially when it’s filtered through the distorted lens of the mass media.

We’re investing way too much anger and angst over things we can’t control (cf. Matthew 6:25-34). The fact is, we’ll survive Francis, just as we survived Honorius, Alexander VI, the Arians, the Albigensians, forty-one(?) antipopes, the Avignon papacy, various Moslem invasions, the Protestant Reformation, the Great Schism, the Long Lent of 2002, and any number of other events that could have — but didn’t — destroy the Church.

Both Scripture and the apostolic tradition tell us that the Holy Spirit has got our backs. Let’s act like we believe it.