Article 21: The Sifting: The Never- Failing Faith of Peter

The Sifting

Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.”

Vatican Council I’s First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ (Pastor Aeternus) opens with the following summation of the doctrinal task which it proposes to accomplish:

“The Eternal Pastor and Bishop of our souls, in order to continue for all time the life-giving work of His Redemption, determined to build up the Holy Church, wherein, as in the house of the living God, all who believe might be united in the bond of one faith and one charity. Wherefore, before He entered into His glory, He prayed unto the Father, not for the Apostles only, but for those also who through their preaching should come to believe in Him, that all might be one, even as He the Son and the Father are one. As then He sent the Apostles whom He had chosen to Himself from the world, so He willed that there should ever be pastors and teachers in His Church to the end of the world. And in order that the episcopate also might be one and undivided, and that by means of a closely united priesthood the faithful might be kept secure in the oneness of faith and communion, He set Blessed Peter over the rest of the Apostles, and fixed in him the abiding principle of this twofold unity and its visible foundation, in the strength of which the everlasting temple should arise, and the Church in the firmness of that faith should lift her majestic front to heaven. And seeing that the gates of hell with daily increase of hatred are gathering their strength on every side to upheave the foundation laid by God’s own hand, and so, if that might be, to overthrow the Church: We, therefore, for the preservation, safe-keeping, and increase of the Catholic flock, with the approval of the Sacred Council, do judge it to be necessary to propose to the belief and acceptance of all the faithful, in accordance with the ancient and constant faith of the universal Church, the doctrine touching the institution, perpetuity and nature of the sacred Apostolic Primacy, in which is found the strength and solidity of the entire Church…” [emphasis mine].

The above passage is worthy of profound meditation by all those who consider themselves traditional Catholics. How many of us now can truly confess to a feeling of security of faith and communion rooted in the strength and solidity of the Apostolic Primacy of the present Pope, or of the last five Pope reigning over the past 54 years? And yet, according to Pastor Aeternus, this security, strength, and solidity are a perpetual mark of the Church:

This disposition made by Incarnate Truth (dispositio veritatis), therefore remains, and Blessed Peter, abiding in the rock’s strength which he received (in accepta fortitudine petrae perseverans) has not abandoned the direction of the Church.” (Ch. II).

Quite to the contrary, perusal of traditionalist literature dealing with the present state of the Church leaves the impression that somehow the direction of the Church has been hijacked, that security and solidity are no longer a reality, and that Christ’s “strength” is gone from the Church.

It is of course the view of one faction of self-styled “traditional” Catholics – Sedevacantists – that this is indeed the case, and that because of the alleged “manifest” heresies of John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, there has been no Pope for the past 54 years. In such a scenario security, strength, solidity, and perpetuity have all been shattered. There are approximately 15 “bogus” Popes among those who style themselves sedevacantists, some having been elected by “conclaves,” and others having assumed their status through private “apparitions.” And, among those (the majority) who do not adhere to any of these false claimants to the Papacy, there is endless division and polemics as to how the Papacy could ever conceivably be restored.

The security of which Pastor Aeternus speaks is only slightly less shattered among those who adhere to the movement founded by Archbishop Lefebvre. While yet claiming acceptance of John Paul II as Pope, the Archbishop proclaimed him to be an “antichrist” in his August 29, 1987 “Letter to the Future Bishops.” In his “Declaration (Subsequent to the Events of the Visit of Pope John Paul II to the Synagogue and the Congress of Religion at Assisi),” he accused Paul VI and John Paul II of a “denial of the whole past of the Church.” And, in a 1986 address to seminarians, he speculated that “it is possible we may be obliged to believe the pope is not pope.”

Thus, inherent in the sedevacantist and SSPX positions lies either outright denial or doubt as to whether recent Popes are in possession of the Catholic faith. And beneath this doubt and denial must also therefore lurk a much more sinister suspicion, and corrosive fear: that both Peter and the Church are now compromised in a way that was always considered impossible; that the promise of Christ’s perpetual direction of the Church through Peter has proven false; and that the whole Catholic thing has been a delusion from its beginning

The only real alternative to this loss of faith in Christ’s promise to Peter, and therefore faith in the reality of the Church itself, is to believe that Christ continues to direct the Church now just as much as He has done in any other period of the Church’s history, that what appear to be the manifold errors and objective heresies of recent Popes does not equate with their having “lost the faith,” and that the present crisis in the Papacy and the Church is a chastisement which we somehow deserve, and which is fully in accord with the Divine Will.

What follows will therefore consist of two distinct, but essentially interrelated parts or articles. Part I will attempt to prove that a Pope can never be considered as someone who has lost his Catholic faith. He cannot therefore lose the Papacy because of what is usually referred to as “manifest heresy,” nor can he be declared deposed by any action of the rest of the Church. I fully realize that in taking this position, I am in opposition to the opinion of a number of theologians, canon lawyers, and even saints, of the past.

Part II will attempt to penetrate to the root causes of the present chastisement of the Church – to those fundamental historical acts of betrayal of the gifts and graces of Christ which have led to the present crisis. It has been standard traditionalist polemic over the past 40-50 years that the historical roots of the present crisis lie primarily in Vatican Council II. It is my contention, on the other hand, that Vatican II, while being a very visible and destructive effluence in itself, is only a surface phenomenon which has largely served to mask the much deeper malaise which has been eating away at the heart of the Church for centuries, and which has now come home to roost in the form of the present chastisement from God.

Part I

The Never-Failing Faith of Peter And His Successors

Immediately after offering the first Mass, Our Lord predicted the betrayal of Judas, and then spoke of the faith of Peter:

“Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.” (Luke 22, 32).

It is clear, first of all, that Our Lord here speaks of the personal faith of Peter. He is not referring to what we now call the “magisterium,” to the charism of infallibility, or to some “office” of Peter which is exercised under certain limited conditions. Rather, He prays for the depths of the soul of Peter in which the theological virtue of faith resides.

We must recognize that Peter’s faith in Christ’s divinity, which was rewarded with the promise of the Keys, was in itself a supernatural gift received directly from the Father, this occurring quite some time before Christ’s bestowal of the gift of the Holy Spirit upon all the Apostles:

“Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

The supernatural gift of personal faith which Peter received was thus the foundation upon which Christ established the Petrine ministry. It was Simon Bar-Jona who received this gift and blessing; it was Peter who emerged from this encounter with God’s special grace.

Vatican Council I, in Chapter IV of its Constitution Pastor Aeternus, confirms this teaching of Christ concerning the relationship between the personal faith of Peter and the performance of his office:

“This gift, then, of truth and never-failing faith was conferred by Heaven upon Peter and his successors in this Chair, that they might perform their high office for the salvation of all; that the flock of Christ, kept away by them from the poisonous food of error, might be nourished with the pasture of heavenly doctrine; that, the occasion of schism being removed, the whole Church might be kept one, and resting in its foundation, might stand firm against the gates of hell.”

It is this personal faith of Peter which is the object of Christ’s prayer after the First Mass – “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.” Despite Peter’s fall to Satan’s sifting. and his threefold denial of knowing Christ, we may be certain that in the depth of his soul, his faith “failed not.” The only alternative is to consider Christ’s prayer not efficacious. Peter’s conversion therefore necessitated a “turning around” of much in his mind and heart, but did not entail conversion from unbelief to the possession of the theological virtue of faith. His faith, while severely tried and shaken, was unfailing.

Many traditional Catholics tend to make facile and pharisaical judgments about recent Popes having “lost the faith.” We need to seriously consider the case of Peter. Three times He denied Christ. The third time, according to Matthew, “he began to curse and to swear that he knew not the man.” The assertion that Peter, at this point, could be judged to have lost his faith might seem totally justified. And yet such a judgment would be terribly wrong.

In the Catena Aurea, St. Thomas collected several commentaries on the above passage from St. Luke – “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.”

St. John Chrysostom: “He does not say, ‘I have prayed that thou deny not,’ but that thou do not abandon the faith.”

St. Theophylus: “For albeit thou art for a time shaken, yet thou holdest stored up, a seed of faith; though the spirit has shed its leaves in temptation, yet the root is firm.”

St. Bede: “As if to say, As I by prayer protected your faith that it should not fail, so do you remember to sustain the weaker brethren, that they despair not of pardon.”

Surely, all of this must be bewildering. That a man should deny Christ, “with an oath” (Matthew 26:72) by saying “I know not the man [Christ],” and curse and swear while so doing, would seem to constitute the surest signs of such a person being a manifest heretic, and properly judged as one who has “lost the faith.” Rather, as we have seen, the case of Peter speaks of a complexity concerning the question as to what constitutes possessing (or losing) the faith which demands further investigation.

We must delve deeper, and we need St. Thomas to do so.

What is Faith?

Vatican Council I’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith defines faith in the following passage:

“Man being wholly dependent upon God, as upon his Creator and Lord, and created reason being absolutely subject to uncreated truth, we are bound to yield to God, by faith in His revelation, the full obedience of our intelligence and will. And the Catholic Church teaches that this faith, which is the beginning of man’s salvation, is a supernatural virtue, whereby, inspired and assisted by the grace of God, we believe that the things which He has revealed are true; not because the intrinsic truth of the things is plainly perceived by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God Himself, Who reveals them, and Who can neither be deceived nor deceive. For faith, as the Apostle testifies, is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not (Heb 11: 1).”

We tend to think of faith as predominantly an intellectual phenomenon. Yet, as the Council’s definition of faith indicates, the act of faith involves a relationship between the intellect and will. It is to the depths of this relationship that St. Thomas’ analysis of the act of faith penetrates. And it here that we must journey if we are to understand the “never-failing faith” of Peter in the midst of the current crisis.

St. Thomas defines the act of faith as “an act of the intellect assenting to the Divine truth at the command of the will moved by the grace of God….” (ST, II-II, Q. 2, A.9). This definition might at first seem dense, but it is easily unraveled.

Faith is in itself, of course, a gift of God, and therefore of God’s grace. But faith is at the same time a truly human act, involving both the intellect and will, cooperating with God’s grace.

St. Thomas analysis of this human act centers upon St. Paul’s definition of faith in Heb 11:1:

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.”

Faith is an act of intellectual assent to things that “appear not.” St. Thomas notes that the intellect assents to things in two ways. In the case of things that are actually “seen” (understood by the intellect), the movement of assent is caused by the object itself. But in the case of things that are not seen, or not sufficiently seen (and therefore the objects of faith), the intellect is moved to assent by the will. The will is therefore the causative agent in the act of faith.

Obviously, this act of the will moving the intellect to the assent of faith is not arbitrary. The will does not choose in a vacuum, but is itself dependent on some degree of knowledge. There are certain truths implicit in human nature, and therefore constituting the very structure of the intellectual light of the human mind, which form the foundation of knowledge from which the will chooses to assent to the Christian Faith.

St. Thomas teaches that the proper object of the human intellect is truth, and that therefore its ultimate and final object is the First Truth which is God. At the same time, the proper object of the human will is the good, which entails that it is ordered towards the possession of the Final Good which is God. Intellect and will are therefore united in their ultimate goal.

Along the path towards this goal, however, each of these faculties, intellect and will, is distinct; and each has a unique role to play in the act of faith.

St. Thomas teaches that there is nothing in the mind that is not first in the senses. We are born with no innate knowledge. But this does not at all mean that the mind is devoid of a specific nature, or that the intellectual light which specifies this nature is not implicitly and instinctively drawn towards truth. In regard to the “truth” about created things, for instance, St. Thomas writes:

“And thus we must need say that the human soul knows all things in the eternal types, since by participation of these types we know all things. For the intellectual light itself which is in us, is nothing else than a participated likeness of the uncreated light, in which are contained the eternal types.” (ST I, 84, 5).

In other words, God so created us in His image as to possess a created intellectual light which indeed does see created substances as He sees them.

Similarly, the created light within us is also implicitly ordered towards God. St. Thomas writes: “man possesses a natural aptitude for understanding and loving God; and this aptitude consists in the very nature of the mind, which is common to all men.” (ST I, Q. 93, a.4). From the standpoint of the intellect, this entails that “all knowers know God implicitly in all they know.” (De Veritate, Q. 22, a.2). This does not mean that man has any innate knowledge of God, but rather that the human mind, being constituted as a created participation in the uncreated Light of God, the intellectual light that is within us is also ordered towards the structure of causation in God’s creation. Every known thing therefore implicitly draws our intelligence towards both the First and Final Cause Who is God. This is why St. Paul proclaimed that unbelief in God is “inexcusable,” because “the invisible things of him [God], from the beginning of the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made….” (Romans 1:20).

When we turn to the question of the will, we see that it also has a “natural aptitude” which directs it towards God as its end. This natural aptitude is rooted in the fact that the human will is created with a nature constituted in such a way as to have “the good” as its proper object, and this in turn reveals a proportion to the Infinite Goodness of God:

This “initial participation” lies precisely in the fact that the “good” to which the will naturally aspires is happiness, and that this desire for happiness can achieve its final rest only in that ultimate reward which is everlasting life in God, and which is constituted by the eternal vision of God. St. Thomas writes: “Final and perfect happiness can consist in nothing else than the vision of the Divine Essence.” (ST, I-II, Q. 3, a.8). Therefore, the will moves the intellect to the act of faith because such faith is the necessary condition for this reward: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb 11:6).

All of this reveals what might indeed seem to be a peculiar relationship between the human mind and its own act of faith. While faith is “certain” because of the act of will which determines it to be so, it is not at all certain in relation to actual intellectual knowledge or “sight.” In a penetrating passage from De Veritate (XIV, a. 1), St. Thomas unravels this relationship:

“In faith there is some perfection and some imperfection. The firmness which pertains to the assent is a perfection, but the lack of sight, because of which the movement of discursive thought still remains in the mind of one who believes, is an imperfection. The perfection, namely, the assent, is caused by the simple light which is faith. But, since the participation in this light is not perfect, the imperfection of the understanding is not completely removed. For this reason the movement of discursive thought in it stays restless.”

It is precisely the latter “imperfection” and “restlessness” in the act of faith which has been the source of so much error propagated in the name of Christ and Christianity.

Certainly, one of the most fascinating aspects of the history of the lives of the Saints is the degree to which this “restlessness” on the part of their minds in regard to their faith led them into some quite profound and dangerous doctrinal errors.

For instance, virtually all the “Eastern Fathers” (including the three Cappadocian Fathers – St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory of Nanzianzus) taught that no created intellect will ever see the Essence of God, but rather only His attributes or “Energies.” This, despite the fact that Holy Scripture promises that we shall see God “face to face,” and that “I shall Know [God] even as I am Known.” (1 Cor 13:12).” This denial of the substance of the Beatific Vision would eventually bear fruit in Palamite theology (the dominant theology in Eastern Orthodoxy today), which denies the Absolute Divine Simplicity of God (all of this is examined in my article Eastern Orthodoxy: Never the Twain Should Meet).

Another example of objective heresy (very much savoring of Gnostic influence) is to be found in St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Maximus the Confessor’s teaching that God only created the two sexes of the human species “in pre-vision of sin” – in other words, only because of His foreknowledge of man’s original sin. This, despite the fact that Holy Scripture states that “God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27). Clearly, scripture testifies to the duality of sexes as being in harmony with the image of God, and not as something which is a divine condescension or punishment “in pre-vision of sin.”

St. Maximus the Confessor went much further. In Ad Thalassium 61, he teaches that God did not create sensible pleasure and pain as integral to human nature, and that original sin consisted in the fact that the first man “at the instant he was created” turned towards sensual pleasure and human sexuality as a means for generation of the human race. And, he then concludes that only those “who are mystically reborn by his Spirit and who no longer retain the pleasure of sexual conception derived from Adam” are liberated from the condemnations of original sin. Not only is this view redolent with the Gnostic view that all of physical creation is a decay away from the spiritual, but it also can be seen as being fully compatible with the Manichaeism belief which views all that is physical as being evil. It logically entails the negation of all that is physical, the degradation of marriage, and the destruction of the family. All of this, of course, is in direct contradiction to Holy Scripture and its teaching concerning the essential goodness of all physical creation, the dignity of human sexuality, and the nobility of marriage as an imitation of Christ and His love for the Church.

I offer these examples simply to illustrate one absolutely essential point in our discussion of the concept of faith. We absolutely cannot establish a one-to-one equation between the reality of “manifestly” believing or teaching objective heresy, on the one hand, and “not possessing the faith” on the other. It simply will not do, therefore, to compile all the writings or statements of a particular person that contradict Catholic doctrine, and then presume to make a judgment that this same person is “not in possession of the Catholic Faith” To expose the objective heresy is one thing; to make the claim that the person has lost the faith, or is a formal heretic, is another. Something more is needed in order to make such a judgment.

What is a Heretic?

I think that all good Catholics understand that we must be quite careful in applying definitive names to people. It is one thing, for instance, to say that someone is being foolish in a given situation, and the quite another to say that he is a “fool” – our Lord specifically says that he who does so shall be in danger of hell fire (Mt 5:22).

A somewhat similar distinction must be made between saying that someone has written or taught heresy, on the one hand, and designating him as a heretic on the other. The appellation “heretic” designates a condition deep within the human soul in which the Catholic Faith has been denied or lost. And since “without faith it is impossible to please God,” the designation of being a heretic also specifies a state of mortal sin, loss of sanctifying grace, and an impending eternity of punishment in Hell if the person does not repent of his error.

St. Thomas teaches that “charity is the form of faith.” (De Veritate, V). Here we come down to the heart of the question as to what really constitutes the difference between being someone who can be said to possess the faith, on one hand, or being one who has lost it. Faith is formed by the fundamental act of charity which submits to the authority of God revealing Himself. To be constituted as a Formal Heretic (one who has lost the form of supernatural faith) requires the culpable and pertinacious refusal to submit to this authority. It requires an essential loss of charity towards God’s Sovereign Authority as revealed through His Church. Again, St. Thomas writes:

“By no means should we accuse of heresy those who, however false and perverse their opinion may be, defend it without obstinate fervor, and seek the truth with careful anxiety, ready to mend their opinion, when they have found the truth, because, to wit, they do not make a choice in contradiction to the doctrine of the Church. Accordingly, certain doctors seem to have differed either in matters the holding of which in this or that way is of no consequence, so far as faith is concerned, or even in matters of faith, which were not as yet defined by the Church [thus, the case with the Eastern Fathers]; although if anyone were obstinately to deny them after they had been defined by the authority of the universal Church, he would be deemed a heretic. This authority resides chiefly in the Sovereign Pontiff.” (ST, II-II. Q.3, a.2).

Concerning this authority which “resides chiefly in the Sovereign Pontif,” Thomas writes:

“The symbol [Creed] was drawn up by a general council. Now such a council cannot be convoked otherwise than by the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff, as stated in the Decretals….Consequently it belongs to the sole authority of the Sovereign Pontiff to publish a new edition of the symbol, as do all other matters which concern the whole Church, such as to convoke a general council and so forth.” (ST, II-II(, Q.1, a.10).

Because of his sovereign position, both doctrinal and juridical, in regard to God’s authority, there is simply no one on this earth who can judge the Pope. As stated succinctly in 1556 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, “The First See is judged by none” – Prim Sedes a nemine judicatur. He cannot be judged to be a heretic, cannot be declared a heretic (such a declaration, after all, implies a previous judgment), and cannot be deposed.

I would hope that the previous discussion has established five essential truths. First, despite whatever evidence may appear contrary to this truth, it is the teaching of the both the Gospel, and also the doctrinal teaching of Vatican I, that the faith of any given Pope is “non-failing.” Second, that the faith of any person reaches to a depth of the relationship between intellect and will within the human heart that it is impossible to equate doctrinal error in itself with loss of faith or formal heresy. Third, that formal heresy (and therefore absence of the theological virtue of faith) can exist only if accompanied by a culpable and pertinacious refusal to submit to Divine Authority. Fourth, that the judgment that this state of culpable resistance, and loss of “good will” necessary to constitute loss of faith and formal heresy devolves exclusively upon the Church, and ultimately upon the Sovereign Pontiff. And finally, and most important of all, no one can judge or declare the Pope to be one who has lost the faith: “The First Chair can be judged by none.”

The task remains, however, and it may indeed be fruitful for our own personal faith in the Church, to try to gain some concrete understanding of how these truths can be applied to recent Pontificates. I shall here deal specifically with the Papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Pope John Paul II

The events at Assisi in 1986 probably constitute the most sensational evidence for most traditional Catholics who believe that Pope John Paul II was a heretic, and therefore one who could aptly be designated as a Pope who had lost the faith.

The January, 1987 edition of the Angelus (official publication of the SSPX in the United States) printed a “Declaration (Subsequent to the Events of the Visit of Pope John Paul II to the Synagogue and the Congress of Religion at Assisi),” signed by both Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer. The following three paragraphs are part of this Declaration:

“Adopting the liberal religion of Protestantism and of the Revolution, the naturalistic principles of J.J.Rousseau, the atheistic liberties of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the principle of human dignity no longer having any relation with truth and moral dignity, the Roman authorities turn their backs on their predecessors and break with the Catholic Church, and they put themselves at the service of the de¬stroyers of Christianity and of the universal Kingdom of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“The high point of this rupture with the previous Magisterium of the Church took place at Assisi, after the visit to the synagogue. The public sin against the one, true God, against the Incarnate Word, and His Church, makes us shudder with horror. John Paul II encourages the false religions to pray to their false gods — an immeasurable, unprecedented scandal.”

“The denial of the whole past of the Church by these two Popes (Paul VI and John Paul II) and the bishops who imitate them is an inconceivable impiety for those who remain Catholic in fidelity to twenty centuries of the same Faith.”

In his August 27, “Letter to the Future Bishops (published in the July, 1988 Angelus), Archbishop Lefebvre opened with the simple declaration, “The See of Peter and the posts of authority in Rome being occupied by anti-Christs….”

All of these statements issued by Archbishop Lefebvre were postulated, of course, on his conclusion that this event could have only been promoted and participated in by John Paul II if he denied the exclusive mediatorship of Jesus Christ as the only means to salvation.

The Wednesday Papal General Audience of October 22, 1986 (only five days prior to the events in Assisi) was devoted to explaining John Paul II’s intentions for the Assisi gathering. Never have I seen it published in any SSPX literature. It contains the following passages:

“At Assisi all the representatives of the Christian churches and communities and of the world religions will be engaged solely in invoking from God the great gift of peace.”

“I would like this fact, so important for the process of reconciliation of men among themselves and with God, to be seen and interpreted by all members of the Church in the light of the Second Vatican Council and of its teachings.”

“In the Council, in fact, the Church, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, reflected at length on her position in a world ever more marked by the encounter of cultures and religions.”

“According to the Council, the Church is ever more aware of her mission and duty, indeed of her essential vocation to announce to the world the true salvation which is found only in Jesus Christ, God and man. (cf. Ad Gentes, 11-13).”

Yes, it is only in Christ that all mankind can be saved. There is no other name under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). From the very beginning of history all who are truly faithful to God’s call, as far as it is known to them, have been directed toward Christ (Cf. Lumen Gentium, 16).”

“Precisely because Christ is the center of the whole created world and of history, and because no one can come to the Father except through Him (cf. Jn 14:6), we approach the other religions in an attitude of sincere respect and of fervent witness to Christ in Whom we believe. In them there are, in fact, the ‘seeds of the Word’, the ‘rays of the one truth’, to quote the words of the early Fathers of the Church who lived and worked in the midst of paganism . . .

“…What will take place at Assisi will certainly not be religious syncretism.”

“Certainly we cannot ‘pray together’ namely, to make a common prayer, but we can be present while others pray. In this way we manifest our respect for the prayer of others and for the attitude of others before the Divinity; at the same time we offer them the humble and sincere witness of our faith in Christ, Lord of the Universe.”

The Pope’s doctrinal clarifications highlight the extreme error in Archbishop Lefebvre’s analysis and position. Certainly we can argue that the Assisi event was a tremendous scandal, that it invoked implications contrary to Catholic doctrine, that it promoted a false ecumenism and indifferentism, that it must involve false philosophical and theological orientations, etc.

Traditionalists are fond of quoting Pius XI’s encyclical Mortalium Animos, which forbade such ecumenical activities, and I would have to say that I am in full agreement. But that does not mean that John Paul II’s decision to hold this event proved that he had lost his Catholic faith, was denying the entire “previous magisterium,” and was an anti-Christ.

As for the Pope’s motivation in holding this event, there exists an ancient tradition in the Church that indeed does speak of “seeds of the Word” lying within pagan religions or beliefs. St. Paul dialogued with the Greeks about their “unknown god,” and equated it with the true God. St. John employed the term “Logos,” previously rich in pantheistic and Gnostic connotations, to equate with the Second Person of the Trinity. Both St. Justin Martyr and St. Clement of Alexandria spoke of a “Dispensation of Paganism,” containing seeds and ideas which lead to Christ. Assisi may indeed have been an example of such dialogue “run amuck,” but it does not translate into John Paul II having lost the Faith.

Pope Benedict XVI

As mentioned elsewhere, I have read over a dozen of Joseph Ratzinger’s books, and I know of no one who has engaged in a more extensive, negative critique of his writings. There is no doubt in my own mind that his writings contain material heresy – something which I have explored in numerous articles available on my website and in Christian Order Magazine.

St. Thomas distinguishes between implicit and explicit faith. All Catholics are required to hold implicit faith in regard to all the doctrines of the Catholic Faith. As we have seen in our earlier analysis, this is simply constituted by the “good will” to assent to all that is revealed by God, which includes the willingness to submit to the divinely constituted living authority of the Church. At the same time, there are certain truths which, according to Thomas, must also be held explicitly by all who possess the Catholic faith. Basically, they are three.

First of all, all Catholics must believe in God, and that He rewards those who truly seek Him – “He that cometh to God, must believe that He is, and is a rewarder to them that seek Him.” (Heb 11:6). Secondly, they must believe in the central doctrines concerning the Incarnation (obviously including the truths that God became man, died for our sins, and was resurrected). And third, they must hold explicit belief in the Trinity. It is perfectly possible, therefore, that the most simple persons, at certain periods of history, could have been in full possession of the Catholic faith without explicit faith in any of the rest of Church doctrines. I need add that, based on my extensive reading of Joseph Ratzinger’s works, there is no doubt that he holds extrinsically and firmly to these truths of our Faith.

For the rest of Catholic doctrine, responsibility for explicit faith depends on all sorts of factors and complexities involving the relationship between mind and will – differing very significantly in the case of individual human beings. These complexities involve, but are not limited to the following conditions: the particular period of history and the various stages of development of doctrinal definition, environmental factors, education, state of mental and emotional health, status or office in the Church, presence of coercion or debilitating fear (such could have been the case of Peter), etc.

This complexity is also vastly compounded by the fact that a person might indeed be one who has not obstinately denied the faith, but is living in a state of culpable confusion, or even mortal sin (God’s call, not ours), which has so affected his thinking or conscience to the point where he is in fact embracing material heresy, despite the fact that the pertinacious resistance to Divine Authority necessary to constitute rejection of the faith is not present. Peter, after all, knew quite well Who our Lord was. He walked with Him, witnessed His miracles, confessed that He was the Christ, witnessed the Transfiguration, and was told by Our Lord Himself that He was to go to Jerusalem, be tried by the scribes and priests, be put to death, and then rise again. And yet, despite his threefold denial, we are told by the Church Fathers that Peter is to be considered one for whom Christ’s prayer was efficacious – he did not lose the faith.

There are two terms which appear repeatedly when we encounter what we might judge to be material heresy in the writings and statements of Joseph Ratzinger: “essentialization,” and “the hermeneutics of continuity.” The former occurs in his works and words stretching back many years. To my knowledge, the second surfaced first during his Dec22, 2005 speech to the Roman Curia. I would highly recommend my article The Suffering Continues (to be found here: ( for an examination of this subject. Here I will summarize only what is necessary for the subject now under consideration.

In his 2005 speech, Pope Benedict spoke of a “perennial problem between faith and reason that is re-emerging in ever new forms,” which in turn has made necessary “a new definition of the relationship between the Church and the modern age.” This “re-defining” must take place in three areas: 1) the relationship between faith and science; 2) between the Church and the modern state; and, 3) between the “Christian faith and the world religions,” and especially the “relationship between the Church and the faith of Israel.”

It is clear that Benedict XVI, as Pope, conceives himself as the primary facilitator of these evolving relationships. It is also evident, as examined in my numerous articles on this subject, that the area which has been most responsible for Joseph Ratzinger’s philosophical and theological formation is the first: the relationship between faith and science.

Reductive science is the primary causative factor for the material heresies we find in his writings. The two scientific “dogmas” which have come to dominate his thinking are reductive “atomism” and evolution. This is nothing unusual. Such is true of the vast majority of educated persons in the world.

Both of these scientific “dogmas” exert the same corrosive ambiance upon all human knowledge. They dissolve the ability to perceive anything in terms of permanent, substantial essence or nature, and thus have the effect of substituting the concept of evolving relationships for substantial being in every sphere of human perception and thought. The following examples, with links to substantiating articles, will illustrate this “corrosion” in the faith of Joseph Ratzinger:

Thus it is that Joseph Ratzinger, in his personal writings, has “essentialized” (not magisterially, of course, but only in terms of his own personal and public “reflections”) the word transubstantiation away from the metaphysical concept of a change of the entire substance of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and towards a concept which sees it as an interior transformation which has nothing to do with change of the physical substances of bread and wine:


He has “essentialized” the concept of original sin away from the concept of a fallen nature received through generation at conception, and proposes that it should now be seen as something contracted through relationships after conception and birth:

He has “essentialized” the human soul itself away from the concept that it possesses a substantial nature, such that it should now be viewed as “nothing other than man’s capacity for relatedness with truth, with love eternal.”


And he has employed evolutionary theory in imitation of Teilhard de Chardin so as to regard “matter as the prehistory of spirit,” and to proclaim that “the clay became man at that moment in which a being for the first time was capable of forming, however dimly, the thought ‘God…. The first ‘thou’ that – however stammeringly – was said by human lips to God marks the moment in which spirit arose in the world. Here the Rubicon of anthropogenesis was crossed.”


It would seem clear that Joseph Ratzinger’s teachings in these areas contradict defined Catholic doctrine. Our temptation might therefore be to immediately declare him a heretic by placing him in the category of persons described by St. Thomas in the passage quoted earlier: “although if anyone were obstinately to deny them [Catholic truths] after they had been defined by the authority of the universal Church, he would be deemed a heretic.” However, in doing so we would have failed to consider the most crucial word in Thomas’ teaching. The denial must be obstinate.

We find little in Joseph Ratzinger’s life or writings that speaks of obstinacy. Virtually all of his writings which contain these ideas were written before becoming Pope, and nothing was ever censured by the Church. There are, of course, those who would attempt to employ Tradition itself, in the form of all the doctrines defined by the Church, as the form of Divine Authority towards which Joseph Ratzinger has been obstinate. However, there is no reason to doubt that he himself believes that what he is engaged in with his agenda to “essentialize” doctrine is not a “hermeneutics of rupture” (and therefore not involving obstinate contradiction or denial of established doctrine), but rather constitutes what he sees to be a “hermeneutics of continuity,” and thus fully in accord with God’s direction of His Church. Having espoused these ideas for decades, and then having been elected Pope, it would seem quite natural for him to believe that this program of “essentialization” is integrally the will of God in order to bring the faith into harmony with what he obviously considers the inescapable, objective facts of modern science. By doing so, he clearly believes that he is fulfilling the will of God, and Vatican Council II, in order to enable the Church more effectively to evangelize the modern world.


Only God can place a lid on the Papacy.

The real question is, why hasn’t He done so? Pope Gregory the Great wrote that “Divine justice provides shepherds according to the just deserts of the faithful.” The Papacy offers possibly the single most powerful means in all of creation by which God can chastise the spiritual adultery of His Church, and thus bring His people to their knees. It is my belief that this chastisement has become necessary because of centuries of geometrically increasing prostitution of Catholics to the world which finally culminated in a pre-Vatican II Catholic Church which, like the whited sepulcher of Jesus’ metaphor, looked visibly healthy, but was rotten with decaying stench within. Vatican II simply removed the stone, and opened the tomb.

Ironically, it is to this period immediately preceding Vatican II that many traditional Catholics seek to return. However, the journey I propose to the reader, and which will be the subject of Part II of this article, will take us back to the Thirteenth Century, during which period I believe Christ was betrayed once again, and the body of Christian civilization began to rot.

*The title of this article, The Sifting, is the same as the last chapter in my book The War Against the Papacy. The approach is different, but certain parts dealing with the Pontificate of John Paul II, and the events at Assisi, have here been duplicated.

Authored by: James Larson