Countless people of varying theological positions and alliances proclaim themselves, and sincerely seek to be, traditional Roman Catholics. Few, however, actually consult the very sources from which genuine traditional (i.e. pre-Vatican II) Catholic teaching can be gleaned, such as this 8-volume dogmatic theology manual, preferring instead the popular literature of authors who wrote in response to the revolution of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).
Yet it stands to reason that, if all prejudice towards any traditionalist “camp” is to be avoided, there can be no better source to dispel the theological confusion and controversies of our times than the very authorities and works on matters of Sacred Theology that were used by the Church herself before the Modernists usurped the positions of power at the very top, beginning with the election of Angelo Roncalli as “Pope” John XXIII in 1958.
A very common error in our day is the idea that papal teaching is not binding, not authoritative, unless it is proclaimed ex cathedra, in which case it is protected by infallibility due to the special assistance of the Holy Ghost. This error has its root in another mistaken notion, namely, the idea that the believer’s obligation to assent arises from the Church’s inability to err. But this is false: The obligation to assent arises from the Church’s authority as the divinely appointed teacher, even aside from matters of infallibility: “He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me” (Lk 10:16).
The question thus presents itself: What is the origin of this widespread error about the binding nature of papal teaching? Where are people getting the idea that only infallible Church dogma must be assented to? Whatever their source is, it is most certainly not a traditional Catholic theology book, that is, not one from an approved theology work published before the death of Pope Pius XII.
The following three essays, clearly written not only for theologians but also for educated laymen, are a good example of the true traditional teaching expounded at a time when no one yet knew of a “Vatican II” or “Novus Ordo” anything:
- “Must I Believe It?” by Canon George Smith (1935)
- “The Doctrinal Authority of Papal Encyclicals” by Fr. Joseph Clifford Fenton (1949)
- “The Doctrinal Authority of Papal Allocutions” by Mgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton (1956)
In 1950, Pope Pius XII published the landmark encyclical Humani Generis, an absolutely critical document that refuted many theological errors renascent at the time, including the idea that the ordinary teaching of the Pope is little more than an opinion one can choose to take or leave. The Pope shot this down when he stated clearly: “Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority…” (Humani Generis, n. 20).
At the Sixth Annual Convention of the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) in 1951, Fr. Edmond Darvil Benard (1914-1961) gave a lecture on this very topic, the transcript of which, including an appended “digest of discussion”, we are excited to share with you today.
Fr. Benard’s presentation is entitled “The Doctrinal Value of the Ordinary Teaching of the Holy Father in View of Humani Generis” and has been made available at the web site of Boston College. It can be accessed for reading online at the following link:
“The Doctrinal Value of the Ordinary Teaching
of the Holy Father in View of Humani Generis“
by Fr. Edmond D. Benard
Proceedings of the Catholic Theological Society of America
Vol. 6 (1951), pp. 78-107
The scanned PDF file can also be downloaded, simply by clicking the “Download” button at the top right in the viewer that opens when you click the link.
We hope that this essay will enlighten many souls, reminding them that traditional Catholic teaching (for example, on the Papacy) is to be sought not in the works of Michael Davies and Roberto de Mattei but, first and foremost, in the approved theological works before the Vatican II Sect came into being. Traditional Catholic doctrine can never be replaced by theological ideas proposed in our day, which often are merely custom-tailored to account for the apostasy that has taken place while at the same time carefully aiming to avoid the highly undesirable conclusion of Sedevacantism.
Our position with regard to the Vatican II apostasy, the nature of the institution that has emerged with it, and the status of the papal claimants after Pius XII’s death, must be the consequence of the pertinent Catholic doctrine taught, believed, and held by the Church before the entire mess began. Hence, consulting and trying to understand that very doctrine is of the utmost importance.
Those accepting Francis as Pope while trying to adhere to the traditional Catholic Faith should ask themselves how Francis fits into Pope Pius XII’s description of the papal office in Humani Generis: “…this sacred Office of Teacher in matters of faith and morals must be the proximate and universal criterion of truth for all theologians, since to it has been entrusted by Christ Our Lord the whole deposit of faith — Sacred Scripture and divine Tradition — to be preserved, guarded and interpreted…. (n. 18).
Thus, if it is admitted that Francis’ magisterium is not “the proximate and universal criterion of truth” for the Catholic — and it obviously isn’t –, then either traditional Catholic doctrine is false, or Francis isn’t a valid Pope.
Now which of these two alternatives is compatible with traditional Catholicism?