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(LifeSiteNews) — Ever since Pope Francis took office, there has been an ongoing reflection on the nature of the papal office, its limits, and its duties. People are at a loss as to how a pope can undermine the very teachings he is called to preserve and defend. Many Catholics agonize over the tension between true and filial obedience toward the Holy Father and our loyalty toward the teachings of Our Lord.

Grappling with this problem, the traditionalist website OnePeterFive just launched a new project discussing this very topic by pointing out “one error above others which seems to be at the root of our current crisis: the false spirit of Vatican I. This false spirit – meaning a false interpretation of said council – goes by many names: hyperpapalism, neo-ultramontanism, extreme ultramontanism, or my personal favourite, hyperüberultramontanism.” The website launched this project in light of Dr. Kwasniewski’s work and new publications.

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski has been, throughout this papacy, a learned, calm, devout, and courageous voice helping us to steer through these tumultuous waters. Two of his latest books that have been very helpful are From Benedict’s Peace to Francis’s War, a collection of responses to Pope Francis’ attack on the traditional Latin Mass (by way of Traditionis Custodes) and True Obedience in the Catholic Church.

Just what exactly is the purpose of the papacy and how far does its authority extend? We all know in general that the pope is the visible head of the Church and that he is supposed to be the “rock” on which it stands (on earth, at any rate), and we revere him according to that role. But is the content of the Faith subject to his reinterpretation, revision, and even cancellation? Can the venerable traditions loved and followed for centuries be laid out on his workbench and totally reconfigured if he decides one day that he dislikes their pattern or judges them no longer suited for “modern man”?

This is where now a new contribution by Dr. Kwasniewski comes to us as a guide. His two-volume The Road from Hyperpapalism to Catholicism was just released by Arouca Press. The author tells us in the Preface to Volume 1 that he himself was an ultramontanist (or, to use his preferred term, “hyperpapalist”) in the John Paul II era, when it seemed that the only problem in the Church was insufficient obedience to the reigning pope, and that he had to wake up gradually to the damage the “cult of papal personality” does to the Church. With today’s media, the pope’s words on any and every subject, almost always given at a low level of authority, are broadcast all over the world, and his decisions in personnel and policy are taken as normative, even when there is good reason prudentially, canonically, or theologically to challenge them.

The tone of the books is set at the start of Volume 1 by a quotation from Cardinal Joseph Hergenröther, a scholar who wrote an authoritative interpretation of Vatican I’s Pastor Aeternus: “The Pope is circumscribed by the consciousness of the necessity of making a righteous and beneficent use of the duties attached to his privileges.… He is also circumscribed by the respect due to General Councils and to ancient statutes and customs, by the rights of bishops, by his relation with civil powers, by the traditional mild tone of government indicated by the aim of the institution of the papacy—to ‘feed’…”

What does this “feeding” look like—and what must it not look like?

There is no doubt in the reader’s mind throughout that Kwasniewski rejects any sort of Protestant or Eastern Orthodox antipapalism. He is not setting out to “debunk” the papacy; he accepts it entirely as part of the deposit of faith. What he probes, rather, is the nature—and limits—of this office and makes a careful critique of an “overgrowth” of the office that ends up breaking continuity with the dogma, morals, and liturgy of tradition. He also explains why conservatism (which might be summed up as “follow whatever the pope says”) and sedevacantism (e.g., “a pope would never act or teach like Francis, therefore he must not be the pope”) are dead ends that do not resolve any of our difficulties but, if anything, make them much worse.

Kwasniewski describes the scope of Volume 1 as follows:

This first volume, Theological Reflections on the Rock of the Church, delves into the role of the papacy in Christ’s Mystical Body on earth and how we may need to adjust our understanding of that role. It is not only the pope but also and more fundamentally Christ and the Faith entrusted to the Church that are the indestructible rock on which we are to build our lives. The papacy is a limited and temporary office, established to represent Christ the Head of the Church and to carry out those tasks (and only those tasks) for which He instituted it, until He comes again in glory and abolishes all ecclesiastical offices and ceremonies in the blazing glory of the Kingdom of Heaven brought to full perfection. There is a sore need to recalibrate our relationship to a papalism that has, in the last century and a half, overshadowed and distorted the tradition-centered and continuity-protecting papacy as it had been exercised from the time of the early Church, with the reign of St. Pius V as a pinnacle. (Vol. 1, p. xi)

 Highlights of Volume 1, in my opinion, are the opening chapter “My Journey from Ultramontanism to Catholicism,” to which many readers will be able to relate; Chapter 2, “Lessons from Church History: A Brief Review of Papal Lapses,” which considerably broadens one’s appreciation for the room that Providence allows to human error and immorality in the papacy, without undermining the indefectibility of the Church; the discussion in Chapter 7 of the full meaning of Matthew 16; the spiritual counsel offered in Chapter 8, “Trials in the Church: Blessings in Disguise;” Chapter 18, “Our Spiritual Response to Scandals and Abuses,” and the last chapter (21), “In the Midst of Crisis, Be Driven by Faith, Not by Fear.”

Volume 2 is entirely focused on the high points (or low points) of the pontificate of Francis, which are covered in 62 mostly short chapters. Kwasniewski says that the second volume is intended as a “case-study of the theological principles discussed” in the first volume. He writes: “No one will be surprised to find herein discussions of Amoris Laetitia, the death penalty, Abu Dhabi, Pachamama, and various synods, especially the ones on marriage and family, on youth, and on the Amazon” (Vol. 2, xiv). Although the chapters are generally short, as just mentioned, three important lectures are published here: Chapter 40 is on the change to the Catechism concerning the death penalty; Chapter 48 is on the Amazon Synod; and Chapter 62 is on the re-appearance of Modernism in the pontificate of Francis. Moreover, the book is quite up to date: Chapter 59 engages the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes, Chapter 60 the dismissal of Bishop Daniel Fernández Torres, and Chapter 61 the Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium, which went into effect this past Pentecost Sunday.

From a material point of view, the books are laid out handsomely in a very readable font. There are ample notes and a bibliography that draws together a wealth of sources. The covers bear the endorsements of several well-known authors: Henry Sire (historian and author of the book The Dictator Pope), Brian McCall (professor of law and editor-in-chief of Catholic Family News), as well as historian and author Phillip Campbell.

A well-made three-minute video introducing the work may be viewed above and here. At the beginning, we hear the following questions: “What exactly is the role of the Successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ, the Pope of Rome? Does this papal office have any limits to its power? Is a Pope bound by tradition and the teachings of his predecessors? If a Pope goes astray in teaching, have the ‘gates of hell’ prevailed? What is God telling us by means of dark periods of papal history? Is there a common thread in the errors and deviations of Pope Francis? Why are defenses of Pope Francis so counterintuitive and unconvincing? Are Sedevacantism and Eastern Orthodoxy ways out of the current crisis? Are Catholics who hold fast to tradition guilty of ‘private judgment’? Most of all… How can we maintain spiritual tranquility in the midst of an ecclesiastical meltdown?” I would say that The Road from Hyperpapalism to Catholicism does indeed answer these questions (and more besides) clearly and convincingly, but also charitably and peacefully. It will be a great boon to those who are struggling with the current situation.

The first volume is 200 pages and the second is 336 pages. Either volume can be read independently of the other, as they are designed to be self-standing.

Peter Kwasniewski, The Road from Hyperpapalism to Catholicism (Volumes 1 & 2), Arouca Press, $34.75. Also available from Amazon outlets around the world.

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Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli,, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana,, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.