26 February 2018

Weinandy and B John Henry Newman and Sedevacantism

The Capuchin Fr Thomas Weinandy, last Warden of Greyfriars in this University, who, last year, issued a fine critique of the current pontificate, has returned to the fray (lecture, Sidney, February 24, Settimo Cielo 22 February). The emphases in the short extract which follows are my own.

After discussing the ecclesiology clearly expressed in the Epistles of S Ignatius, Fr Tom writes:
"Ignatius may have been in the envious position of never having encountered a heretical bishop, but if he ever did chance upon one, he would have had a ready response at hand. He would clearly have argued ... [that were] a bishop to espouse heretical teaching, whether concerning doctrine, morals or pastoral and sacramental practice which bears upon doctrine and morals ... such a bishop no longer was in union with the catholic ecclesial community for he no longer professed the one apostolic faith of the Church and thus rendered himself incapable of exercising fully his office as bishop. He could no longer teach and govern as an authentic successor of the Apostles, nor could he preside over the eucharistic liturgy in a manner that bore witness to and enriched the oneness of the holy catholic Church. Simply put, such a heretical bishop would no longer bear within himself as a bishop the four defining marks of the Church and, therefore, he could no longer justifiably act as an ecclesial member within the Church. He may continue to act outside the Church, or even within the Church, but his actions would lack a genuine ecclesial character, for the essential and indispensable four marks of the Church would be absent within his specious ministry. Such, I believe, would be Ignatius' rejoinder to a heretical bishop. And an argument I similarly employ in the face of our contemporary ecclesial crisis."

Frankly, this is the closest a mainstream writer, commenting on the legacy of Amoris laetitia, has, to my knowledge, come to expressing an attitude which could appear to a hasty or incautious reader to be tending towards Sedevacantism. (The words I have highlighted apply, of course, to the occupant of the Roman See just as much as they do to the Bishop of any other Particular Church. Just because the Roman Church is the Mother and Mistress of all the Churches, she does not cease herself to be a Particular Church, equipped with a bishop.)

But Weinandy's argument is most certainly not Sedevacantist. Far from it.

Fr Weinandy is in fact arguing in a way very close to that of Blessed John Henry Newman when he discussed the Arian Crisis. Newman used phrases like suspense of the Magisterium, that is, of  the teaching Office within the Church. He did not claim that the Pope or the other errant bishops had by heresy ceased to be occupants of their sees; and neither does Fr Weinandy. Newman held that their status was unchanged and that their Magisterium remained intact, de jure in full force; but that de facto ... as a matter of real-world fact ... they had ceased to employ it and to discharge its functions. In such a situation, as Weinandy mercilessly but (I very much fear) accurately puts it, the actions of their 'specious' ministry 'lack a genuine ecclesial character'.

It may seem to some readers difficult to imagine how this conclusion can lack practical consequences, but I am completely unqualified to spell such details out.

In the unprecedented crisis currently facing the Church Militant, I believe we need appropriate terminology to describe a complex situation. Otherwise, there is the risk that good people, souls for whom Christ died, who have already suffered enough under this cruel pontificate, may be driven into the snares laid by Sedevacantism. 

And I believe that Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman has supplied that terminology, and given it the authority of his own reputation.

And we are indebted to Fr Weinandy for again advancing theological dialogue about the current crisis.

NOTES: Additionally, of course, the name of Newman (combined with the mantra 'Development') springs to the lips of the Bergoglians whenever they reach for some specious and gauzy drapes wherewith to conceal their libido nuda innovandi

Later today, a little more on Newman's teaching.


mark wauck said...

"It may seem to some readers difficult to imagine how this conclusion can lack practical consequences..."

So, in other words, you're saying that this conclusion DOES lack practical consequences?

In that case, how do you respond to Fr. Weinandy's statement that such a bishop "could no longer teach and govern as an authentic successor of the Apostles"? To no longer be able to "govern" sounds like a very practical consequence! Again, Fr. Weinandy says re such a bishop's that "his actions would lack a genuine ecclesial character." This word "actions" again seems to place us squarely within the realm of practical consequences.

It seems to me that this crisis is, as you say, "unprecedented," which is to say that ancient crises, even the Arian crisis, don't serve as true precedents. In those cases there were disputes about particular points of doctrine in which one might suppose that one's opponent, while in error, was in more or less good faith in claiming to be within the Church, for the reason that these differences were by and large questions of "first impression," as we say in the law. It seems that a more realistic precedent would be the Protestant Revolt. There, however, most of the heretics made no pretense of remaining in union with Rome--thus saving us from these mental gymnastics. In the current crisis, on the other hand, the disputes are not truly over points of doctrine nor are they matters of "first impression". In a very real sense these are not even disputes, properly speaking. Rather, as we saw at the two recent very extraordinary synods, these are disputes over the very nature of Christian faith but are really more in the nature of a struggle for power, a struggle for possession over the physical resources of the Church. In this sense it is an "unprecedented" crisis--as you and Fr. Weinandy would agree--and so older precedents may not be very helpful.

Thomas said...

@mark wauk: "In that case, how do you respond to Fr. Weinandy's statement that such a bishop "could no longer teach and govern as an authentic successor of the Apostles"? To no longer be able to "govern" sounds like a very practical consequence! Again, Fr. Weinandy says re such a bishop's that "his actions would lack a genuine ecclesial character." This word "actions" again seems to place us squarely within the realm of practical consequences."

Maybe you have placed the emphasis on the wrong words. Such a bishop "could no longer teach and govern as an authentic successor of the Apostles" and "his actions would lack a genuine ecclesial character." It is the authenticity and the genuine ecclesial character of his actions and edicts which are put into abeyance by his heretical views, not his office which he holds until he dies, resigns or is deposed by due public process. In fact he still has the latent ability, right and indeed duty to teach and act authentically, which could be revived. The seat is not vacant but his words and actions right now may well be.

mark wauck said...

@Thomas: I believe I understand the weaknesses of the Sedevacantist position, but the weakness of Newman's position as applied to the current crisis is that it doesn't appear to attach due weight to the importance of faith--that weight that Jesus gives it, the weight that the New Testament writers give it, and the weight that the early Fathers such as Ignatius patently give it. Newman's view seems overly facile to me, as applied to this current, and unprecedented, crisis. Weinandy's concern is that the four marks of the Church are unprecedentedly--and I think we should assume that he uses that word after due consideration of history--under attack from the top down, from the papacy down. In such a situation Newman appears to be advocating something that could turn out to be a suicide pact, an abandonment of the flock for which there is no recourse. Will you now address to me the same rebuke that Cupich addressed to Rist?

mark wauck said...

"Newman held that their status was unchanged and that their Magisterium remained intact, de jure in full force; but that de facto ... as a matter of real-world fact ... they had ceased to employ it and to discharge its functions."

Let's take a practical example. Suppose we have a heretical bishop--we'll call him Bishop of Rome--who is in this position: his Magisterium is "in abeyance." Does that mean that if this bishop, Bishop of Rome, deposes bishops he doesn't like, who are rigid or otherwise noxious to him, that they cannot resist him? Or does it mean, if my understanding of Weinandy is correct, that their ability to "govern" is also in abeyance? Can the deposed bishop then refuse to accept this exercise of authority? The same, of course, goes for organizations such as religious orders. Can they refuse to allow themselves to be pillaged and despoiled by Bishop of Rome because "his actions lack a genuine ecclesial character," or is all this talk just so much blather without practical consequence?

Athelstane said...

This (Newman) theory sounds a bit like a voluntary sedeprivationism, though more limited in scope.

It's also as good a characterization as any I have come across.

Tom A. said...

And who gets to decide that we may ignore Bergolio, since he no longer professes the Catholic faith?

mark wauck said...

Quite frankly, however, I don't really think that Sedevacantism is the big problem. Let's see if I can come up with an example that's closer to what we could be looking at.

Suppose the Polish bishops, who seem fairly united, get together and say, Look, we're still Catholic, we regard Bergoglio as pope, but we also regard him as beyond a heretic--we think he's trying to start his own new religion, a la Teilhard. Since the other bishops can't seem to get their act together, we've decided that for the foreseeable future we'll simply appoint our own bishops, guys whom we can certify as Catholic. Because this guy Bergoglio, he just lacks "genuine ecclesial character." We wish him well, but this is the thing. After all, if he's delegated bishoping to the Chinese emperor, or whoever that guy is, well, why shouldn't we do it on our own until we have a Catholic pope again? Who could gainsay them? In the circs, I wouldn't, despite the obvious dangers. The Nigerians just faced Bergoglio down because they didn't like the tribe of the bishop that Benedict foisted on them. So who's to say the Poles would be wrong?

That seems a more likely scenario to me. This is what Bergoglio is finally forcing us to, after all the slow creep after V2--we have to ask, just what does it mean to be "pope," what does it mean to be in communion? Real basic questions that we all thought were settled.

So maybe now I've answered Fr Hunwicke's question back in his original "Sedevacantism" blog. What if ...

mark wauck said...

@Tom A: It's as it ever was--we all have to decide for ourselves, in the end. If we're non-Bergoglians we'll make our decision on objective standards of historical scholarship. But I might well ask in return, Who are these men charged with making this decision who have decided not to decide? Who gets to decide not to decide? Not to decide is to decide.

coradcorloquitur said...

To Mark Wauck above:
What an insightful and practical observation you make by citing the example of the (so far)courageous Polish episcopacy! I say "so far" because the Bergoglian machine has very effective gelding mechanisms. I agree that sedevacantism---with all its intricacies and mind-numbing technicalities and uncertainties---is largely a "boogey-man" and not the real problem. I think we waste too much of our time and energy on a relatively small (at least numerically) issue. I have always seen it as a distraction that serves the Modernist heretics as a handy tool to attack traditionalists in general by painting all with a broad, unjust brush stroke. But what you suggest above is truly workable---although I already can hear the hysterical clamor of "schism!!!" We have all suffered much under Bergoglio, with much more to come, and whether he is a valid pope or not---a question many ask not in adolescent, wicked rebellion but because Francis himself has forced the question on an almost daily basis---God certainly knows (and I certainly do not). Perhaps it is time for us to start doing something very practical (and "in your face" in the tradition of many great saints) as you suggest, all the while praying for Franciscus Pontifex---for his well-being, his recovery of sanity, and, above all, his return to the Faith of his birth.

the Savage said...

In the rarified world of sedevacantism, there is a view called the Cassiciacum Thesis, as it was first proposed by Guérard des Lauriers, OP, in the French traditionalist journal Cahiers de Cassiciacum. It is also sometimes called "sedeprivationism". Under this thesis, Popes subsequent to Pius XII are Popes materialiter - that is, they legitimately hold the office to which they were elected - but not formaliter - they cannot legitimately exercise the teaching or disciplinary powers of that office, which they have been deprived of by professing the heresy of Modernism. This theory has always been somewhat on the fringe, but in the era of Francis with eminent theologians like Fr. Weinandy suggesting something similar and the distinguished pedigree you have traced for this idea from Newman, perhaps this thesis should be revisited more seriously.

Thomas said...

@the Savage: Thanks for clarifying the term "sedeprivationism". So in answer to @mark wauk: What I am saying, and what I think Fr. Weinandy is saying, and most definitely what I understand Bl. John Henry Newman to mean, is not that heretical bishops "cannot exercise the teaching or disciplinary powers of their office" in an authentic and genuinely ecclesial way, but that de facto they do not.

Does this make their doctrinal instruction and canonical commands null and void? Do we have any obligation to follow their teachings and commands? I would make a distinction.

We cannot accept teaching which manifestly contradicts defined doctrine. In answer to the scenario Fr. Hunwicke poses about what would happen if a supreme pontiff did try to solemnly define something heretical, I would have to answer that the Holy Spirit will not allow such a thing. No, I do not believe that the Holy Spirit guides every word a Pope utters and guides his every action (!), but surely this goes to the core of Our Lord's promise that the gates of Hell will not prevail against his Church and that Peter's faith (not the individual man who is pope) will not fail. I cannot see any human mechanism to prevent that happening, so I must believe it is protected by grace and providence and the enduring presence with his Church on earth of the Lord himself in the last analysis.

However, in matters of personal discipline, we should obey even an unjust or vindictive superior unless that should involve actual sin. It seems to me that this is the way all the true saints have behaved. I will add that, in my view, papal infallibility is far less of a challenge to live with in these unprecedented circumstances in the Church, precisely because its practical exercise is rare and formally restricted, than is the immediate and universal jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome over all the faithful. There is only one jurisdiction which is higher and more universal, and which is also eternal, so we must trust Him, even though he appears to be asleep in the back of the boat!