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District Superior's
Letter to Friends & Benefactors

January 2001

Allow me to continue last month’s considerations. The great difficulty in coming to terms with the present crisis in the Church is to understand how it could be possible for such error and compromise on questions of Faith to enter into the highest positions in the Church, for did not Our Lord say to St. Peter, and through him to his successors: "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not" (Lk. 22:32). Is it possible to resist bad prelates and a bad pope without saying that the Church has failed, that it is no longer indefectible? Is not such a resistance a denial of the very nature and structure of the Church, and consequently of its indefectibility? Can we say that we believe in the Church and its authority without actually here and now submitting is everything to those who wield that authority? Can we admit that the Church is indefectible and at the same time that the practical universality of prelates, together with the pope and the Roman Curia, push the ecumenical errors of the Second Vatican Council?  The sedevacantists deny it, and basing themselves on the indefectibility of the Church’s authority come to deny its visible hierarchical institution (and hence, of course, its indefectibility), namely the pope, the bishops and that there are even any Catholic faithful outside of themselves.

The misunderstanding here lies in the meaning of the term "indefectible". What do we mean when we call the Church indefectible? The catechism tells us that it means that the Church will last until the end of time as Christ founded it, that is without any substantial change. The popes have repeated the "everlasting" (Leo XIII, Dz 1955) nature of the Church, rock solid until the end of time (Vatican I, Dz 1794), without which Our Lord’s words "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Mt. 16:18) would not be true. However, that indefectibility does not necessarily lie in any particular exterior function of the hierarchy. If this were the case, the great Western Schism, with up to three parallel popes at one time could not have existed, nor would the stringent limitations on papal infallibility defined by Vatican I exist. The fact that the pope is not always infallible means by definition that he can fail, as a person, as a teacher, for as long as he does not use the fullness of papal authority to which infallibility is attached.

Most people have a very legalistic view of the Church, and consequently of its indefectibility, which is why they find it impossible to conceive that three popes and so many prelates could have defected from the full and complete profession of the Faith, and find themselves bound either to either accept all the modernist changes, or to reject the entire hierarchical Church, as the sedevacantists do.

Dr. Ludwig Ott in Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma explains, to the contrary, the true nature of the Church’s indefectibility:

The intrinsic reason for the indefectibility of the Church of Christ lies in her inner relation with Christ, who is the Foundation of the Church (I Cor 3:11) and with the Holy Ghost, who dwells in her as essence and life-principle. (p. 297)

The indefectibility thus primarily consists in the divine life infused into the Church’s members through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the sacraments, and is in no way tainted by the human defects, imperfections and failures of members of the visible hierarchy, as high as they might be. Pope Pius XII points out in his magnificent 1943 encyclical On the Mystical Body of Christ (Mystici Corporis Christi) that although the Church’s hierarchy was instituted by Christ, it is not on such juridical structures that its indefectibility is founded:

Although the juridical principles, on which the Church rests and is established, derive from the divine constitution given to it by Christ and contribute to the attaining of its supernatural end, nevertheless that which lifts the Society of Christians far above the whole natural order is the Spirit of our Redeemer who penetrates and fills every part of the Church’s being and is active within it until the end of time as the source of every grace and every gift and every miraculous power. (§ 63)

It is in fact the enemies of Catholicism who see exclusively the external structure and who accuse the Catholic Church of "ecclesiastical formalism". This is Dom Aelred Graham’s term in The Teaching of the Catholic Church (Vol II, p. 730, Ed. Canon Smith, 1947), and here is his commentary:

The reason for this power of survival lies, not in the Church’s juridical elements, but in the indestructibility conferred upon her by the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit and of Christ himself. The visible hierarchy, the elaborate Church organization, being inseparable from human imperfections, though a part of Our Lord’s plan from the beginning, have not in themselves the stuff of immortality. This they derive from the sources of grace and divine life within, the hidden riches of the Mystical Body which constitute the veritable "mystery of the Church."

The principal error of the sedevacantists, who attach indefectibility entirely to the exterior hierarchical structure, is likewise that of ecclesiastical formalism. With a little more appreciation of the life of grace received through the sacraments, with a little more understanding of the human weakness to which we are all subject, they would see how the Church continues through and despite the defects of its members, whether they be defects of Faith or Charity, or uncontrolled passions of anger, envy or concupiscence. They would likewise understand a little more the interior suffering of those struggling against modernism infecting their own minds, such as the pope, and the torment of those orthodox priests and faithful struggling against modernism in the Novus Ordo. If we do not agree with their prudential miscalculation, and their subsequent compromises, we cannot accuse them of not being a part of the Mystical Body of Christ, we cannot refuse to pray for them, united as we are at the altar, at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to Christ Crucified, for as long as their Masses are offered validly by those who profess the Faith in union with the Catholic Church. Likewise by standing up against and condemning these defects in the hierarchy, by refusing to accept the abuse of authority destroying the very sacramental and supernatural life it was instituted to defend and promote, we in fact defend the Church’s true indefectibility, as is our duty before God.

Nevertheless, as we enter this New Year, let us be wary of our own grave responsibility of maintaining in a precise a manner as possible, all the exterior aspects of the Church’s life, which are in no way extrinsic to its supernatural mystery. This means perfect fidelity to the magisterium, legitimate obedience to the hierarchy, awe and respect for the priesthood, the consecrated state and the holy vows of religion, careful attention to every detail in the celebration or assistance at Holy Mass and in the administration and preparation of the sacraments, unshakable devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Nothing is unimportant, accessory, simply human or readily modifiable in all these details of ecclesiastical institution. Fr. Calmel, O.P. has this to say:

That is why we will do all in our power to prevent these means from being perverted or annihilated, as has been done by revolutionary maneuvers since Vatican II. In our resistance, we are assured of being faithful to the Church, for whatever the modernists try to tell us, it wishes to maintain the means that are necessary for it to accomplish its function of mediation. And it wishes to perform this function of mediation in order to live in charity, that Our Lord reside in her by the indwelling of love and by the Eucharistic Presence. (Mysteres du Royaume de la Grace, I, pp. 126-127).

These times of confusion can be for us times of peace and calm, if such is our Faith in the mystery of the Church, a supernatural, indefectible mystery that we cannot see, but which we adhere to with all our mind, will and heart.

Yours faithfully in Christ Our Lord, Our King and Our Sovereign High Priest,

Fr. Peter R. Scott

 
 

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