Feeling that he was at death's door, John XXII called to his bedside the cardinals and bishop’s resident at Avignon, together with the notaries public, and in their presence made a retraction of whatever he had himself preached or said, or caused others to preach or teach, on the beatific vision that was not in perfect conformity with Catholic belief. He also declared that he held with the Catholic Church that the just souls departed enjoy the vision of God immediately that they are free from all stain and debt of sin. This was on the third day of December, 1334; and on the day following he died with sentiments of the deepest piety.
A more beautiful ending to this story could not be written. To his eternal credit, Pope John XXII finally admitted on his death bed what he was too proud to admit for the previous four years. Namely that the doctrine he preached and caused others to preach was not the doctrine of the Catholic Church. With the grace of the Holy Ghost, he repented and saw fit, as he fast approached his own day of judgment, to assent completely to the perennial Catholic teaching on the matter, which he knew in his heart to be true.
After the Catholic world had breathed a sigh of relief upon John XXII’s retraction and death, his successor, Benedict XII wasted no time in settling the matter once and for all. On January 29, 1336 he published his Constitution, Benedictua Deus defining the resistance’s Profession of Faith as Catholic dogma.
Fr. O’Daniel ends his piece by confirming that the dogma of papal infallibility was never invoked by Pope John XXII to bind his own teaching upon the faithful. Fr. O’Daniel’s words stand as a refresher for all of us, especially in the age of Pope Francis:
…were it undeniable that, in his capacity of private theologian, John firmly believed and taught such an erroneous doctrine, it would in no way militate against the Catholic dogma of papal infallibility. For while we like to consider the public acts of the Head of the Church as providential and history often proves them to have been such, no well-instructed Catholic holds that the Sovereign Pontiff is infallible in his private views, though made public, or that they must be accepted on faith divine. The influx of the Holy Ghost, which alone renders his judgment unerring in matters of faith and morals, is vouchsafed him only, when, acting precisely in his capacity as Vicar of Christ and teacher of the faithful, he speaks ex cathedra, proclaiming a truth to be believed under pain of anathema…
…though the records of ecclesiastical history are soiled by no such blot [infallible declaration of error]-a fact which, we think, is due to a special care of Divine Providence, -it has never been thought an impossibility that the Head of the Church as an individual, or a private theologian, should fall into formal heresy. No such an accusation can be laid at the door of John XXII. In no sense of the term can he be said to have been a formal heretic; for the doctrine of the immediate bestowal of the beatific vision upon the departed just soul, once it is free from all trace and stain of sin, though generally believed, had not then been made a dogma of Catholic faith.
History Repeats Itself
The crisis of the 1330’s bears many similarities with our current crisis. Most likely due to the same “special care of Divine Providence” referred to by Fr. O’Daniel, the post-Conciliar popes have treated infallible declarations as if they were the plague. To the Conciliar popes, the Traditional doctrine of infallibility is an impediment to both collegiality and ecumenism. Therefore it must be downplayed and never utilized. Thus, like John XXII, they have not declared any infallible dogmas.
In addition, the post-Conciliar popes, like John XXII, have convinced themselves that their own preaching and teaching is in accordance and reconcilable with Catholic Tradition, even though in many cases it is not. The reason? The post-Conciliar popes have an erroneous notion of a “living Tradition” that can change. Like John XXII they believe that their teachings are consistent with Scripture and the Early Church Fathers. Like John XXII, they believe that if they get enough of a consensus from Cardinals and theologians, that they can change Traditional Church doctrine established in the years between the Early Church and their own time. They believe that since the Pope interprets Tradition, any resulting official teaching from themselves would be just as Catholic and Traditional as any other.
If anyone doubts this, just take a look at Francis’ statements regarding the upcoming Synod on the Family. The perennial Catholic teaching on Communion for the divorced and remarried is firmly settled, though it has never been the subject of any extraordinary dogmatic definition. This is because the teaching has never been seriously questioned in Church history. This is analogous to the Traditional teaching on the Beatific Vision in the 1330’s.
Like John XXII, Francis is acting as if there are two legitimate Catholic views on the Communion for the divorced and remarried issue, which the faithful are free to accept. Also, like Pope John XXII Francis is beginning to make it clear which view he prefers. He has already called Cardinal Kasper’s proposal to allow Communion for the divorced and remarried, “a beautiful and profound presentation.” In addition, a woman married to a divorced and remarried man has publicly claimed the Pope told her she could receive Communion. To date there has been no denial by the Vatican.
The Death of Catholic Outrage
A few lines of Fr. O’Daniel’s article struck me deeply. I will repeat them here. Describing the Catholic world in the 1330’s, Fr. O’Daniel states:
The atmosphere was literally palpitant with the scandal and unrest that had been caused by the Avignon sermons. The minds of theologians were stirred and their hearts aflame. The people were as a unit on the side of the defenders of the universal belief of the Church. It was, further, an age of outspoken, blunt language; an age when the faith was defended with all the energetic sincerity of a deep, living credo.
This is a beautiful description of what, in theological terms, is called the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful). It is a sort of innate sense that the Catholic faithful through the ages have imbibed from Tradition. Even though the vast majority of faithful in the 1330’s were simple people with no formal training in theology, they knew counterfeit theology when they heard it.
That these simple medieval faithful, almost without exception, rose up in protest against this new teaching, even though it came straight from the pope, is remarkable when compared to our time. It tells us something has changed in the minds of the faithful regarding the relationship between the pope and Faith.
We need to truly ponder this as Catholics. We need to consider that the sensus fidei of even the Dominicans of the 1330’s, the staunchest defenders and allies of the papacy and Pope John XXII in particular, not only permitted, but compelled them to publicly and steadfastly resist his error, no matter what personal hardship, condemnations, or imprisonment that entailed.
Where are such faithful Catholics in our own day? For the most part, today’s Catholics are in de facto apostasy. The majority of them do not attend weekly Mass and deny at least one, if not more, Catholic dogmas. Of those Catholics who do accept Catholic dogma and are active in their Faith, the great majority are what is known as conservatives. These conservative faithful, by and large, do have the sensus fidei.
We Traditional Catholics know this because the vast majority of us were conservatives in the past. Our sense of Faith told us something was wrong in the Conciliar Church. Conservatives experience this every time they see the Blessed Sacrament treated with irreverence or they hear a priest preaching Modernism from the pulpit. Conservative faithful are potentially the Church’s secret weapon in resolving this crisis.
The problem? Conservative Catholics are continually prevented from acting upon their sensus fidei by the mainstream Catholic media/ apologetics institutions they get their news from. The information they are receiving shapes their views and opinions and influences their reaction to the crisis we see going on around us.
In the 1330’s there was no media filter. The faithful got their information by word of mouth and their Faith from their priests. There was no third party middle man they were dependent on to get their carefully filtered and spun news from. Nor was there a parallel media magisterium made up of laymen, telling them to squash their Catholic sense and be silent as their Church crumbles around them.
On the theological level, the difference between 1330 and 2014 can be summed up by the prescient words of Fr. Henri Le Floch. Fr. Le Floch was the rector of the French Seminary in Rome in the 1920’s. In 1926 he predicted:
The heresy which is now being born will become the most dangerous of all; the exaggeration of the respect due to the pope and the illegitimate extension of his infallibility.
The “heresy” Fr. Le Floch described is now considered dogma to most Catholic apologists of our day. As I pointed out several times in this article, the approach that the conservative apologists and media tell us is “Catholic” would not have been recognizably Catholic to any Catholic in 1330. In fact, the conservative apologists would have been on the wrong side of history at every single turn during the crisis caused by Pope John regarding the Beatific Vision.
The Way Forward
So what have we learned by looking back at the crisis in Pope John XXII’s time? Where do we go from here? Let’s look at what the Catholic resistance of that time did.
1.) Religious orders, theologians, and Catholic faithful united in resistance to the novel doctrine being promoted by pope and united in defending the Traditional doctrine. They spoke out publicly and vociferously against the pope’s novel doctrine, knowing it was their duty to do so.
2.) The resistance was consistent and unrelenting. Even in the face of banishment, theological condemnations, imprisonment, and vigorous defenses of the novel doctrine by the pope and those close to him. Even in the face of the pope rewarding and promoting those favoring his new doctrine and demoting and punishing those opposing his new doctrine. In fact, the more the pope stepped up his persecution of the resistance, the more strengthened the resistance became.
3.) An influential Catholic head of state and important figures in the Church supported the resistance, eventually organizing a sizeable group of notable theologians and Cardinals to sign a Profession of Faith that the pope could not ignore. This coupled with the growing pressure of the resistance from all sides provided one clear path whereby the pope could both save face and save the Church.
4.) The resistance, though not mentioned in the article, certainly offered unrelenting prayers for the pope to change course, retract his novel erroneous doctrine and to restore order in the Church.
This path that our Catholic forebears laid out, along with the intercession of the Holy Ghost, is the only path that will lead us out of our current crisis. The first step for us is to wake up our conservative brothers and sisters. They are the sleeping giant we will need to fight the enemy. It is only by joining forces en masse that a resistance can build enough pressure to start to influence bishops, Cardinals, and eventually a pope.
How do we do this? We must first get around the “Matrix-like” false reality presented to these faithful Catholics by the Neo-Catholic apologetics and media complex. We must work to get news to the faithful that the mainstream outlets refuse to report through alternative media like the internet, podcasts, video clips, etc. We must start radio and TV networks. But beyond this, we need more outreach and education at the grass roots level. Organizing local talks, speeches, and debates. Organizing Tradition based clubs and organizations at parishes. Talking with our conservative friends one on one about these issues in a spirit of fraternal charity.
We must also get true Catholic doctrine and thinking out to the faithful by presenting them with historical examples like the one in this article. Some of our biggest weapons are relatable stories from Church history. These help our conservative friends see in a very real way that we are not presenting them with anything new. This is not our own novel doctrine, like the doctrine of John XXII or the doctrine of the “New Theology.” We are presenting anew only what the Church has always taught.
Most importantly, historical examples like these will show we are not resisting certain erroneous teachings of the pope simply because we are disobedient or do not like his person. We are resisting these errors because this is our Catholic obligation to do so. The pope is not above the Faith, he is bound to it. Historical examples like the one in this article help to drive this point home. Our conservative friends can see for themselves that the faithful in 1330 were Catholic to the core and they resisted their pope when he proposed a teaching against Tradition. This is not just a new rationalization we have invented in order to justify a position of resistance. It is a Catholic moral teaching espoused by saints and popes that says we have not only the moral right, but the moral obligation to resist error no matter what the source.
Tradition is just as much the treasure and the birthright of our conservative Catholic friends as it is ours. We must help them to see it for the valuable thing it is and help them claim it. To want to draw our Catholic brethren away from what passes for liturgy in most of their churches and back towards their own blessed patrimony is not an act of disobedience, but rather an act of love.
One important thought I want to leave you with is to think about the amount of work and suffering it took those faithful Catholics in the 1330’s over a small period of just four years in order to help save the Church from disaster. They rallied and fought constantly, suffered persecution and setbacks, organized a mass resistance, and then launched their last best effort. Until that point all seemed lost.
It was then and only then that the Holy Ghost stepped in and converted John XXII. Our Lord wanted the Catholic faithful to utilize the Catholic sense He Himself put in their heart and to utilize the Catholic moral theology which fully allows and compels our defense of the Faith and resistance to error.
I firmly believe that it was because these faithful Catholics of the 1330’s proved their love for Christ by fighting for His Holy Tradition even against their own beloved pope and no matter what the cost, that the Holy Ghost ended their crisis in four short years. How long might the crisis of the 1330’s have lasted if hardly any Catholic faithful had risen to the challenge?
Regardless, what an indictment the example of our Catholic brothers and sisters of the 1330 makes of our generation. The Catholic faithful of our day, besides being far more educated and having far more resources have, besides small pockets of resistance, really offered little organized fight in nearly fifty years. Only now, it seems, are some broader signs of resistance beginning to coalesce.
For the last fifty years innovators in the Church have tried to change our Faith. They took away our Mass. They took away our churches. They’ve preached heresy in our pulpits. They’ve brought rock bands into the sanctuary. They’ve distributed Our Blessed Lord’s Body into unconsecrated hands with particles falling to the floor to be trampled.
Our popes have prayed with pagans in forests, kissed the Koran, asked St. John the Baptist to “protect Islam”, kissed the hands of pro-homosexual priests, and allowed, even if by acts of omission, the sexual abuse of countless Catholic children by shuffling the offending priests around from diocese to diocese.
And what do the vast majority of us Catholics do? We do nothing. We act as if there is no crisis and the Church is the same as it always was.
I firmly believe that God is testing us. Until we do something, until we as a unified Catholic faithful start to act like our Faith and our Church and our God means as much to us as it did to Barnabas of Vercelli, Durandus of Saint-Porcain, and Thomas Walleis, I think Our Lord is content to see just how bad it has to get before we react. For the age old admonition is true: God helps those who help themselves.
And woe to those who live in this current crisis and do not react. For as Dante says, ”The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of great moral crisis.”
Indeed there is no time in Catholic history that is more in need of every single believing Catholic rising up in holy defense of Tradition to end this crisis. I believe God’s message to each of us in this crisis can best be best understood through a poem about how God chooses to act through each of us in this life. It is widely attributed to St. Therese of Avila. I will end with it.
Christ Has No Body
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.