Becoming a saint today means ‘resisting’ erring religious leaders: Catholic historian
Rome, May 18, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – “Is it possible that a bishop, Episcopal conference, Council or Pope can fall into error or heresy, and expect to be followed on this path? What, in such circumstances, should the faithful do?” asked a renowned Catholic historian at a conference in Rome today.
Professor Roberto de Mattei, founder of the Lepanto Foundation, suggested that some Catholics today have a mistaken understanding of “obedience” that makes them reluctant to “resist” religious authorities “when they violate divine and natural law.”
But the Professor said that it was precisely in virtue of obedience to God and his divine laws first and foremost that make Catholic resistance to erring religious authorities “lawful.”
He made these comments at the Rome Life Forum held at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum).
"To become saints means doing the will of God, doing the will of God means obeying His law always, in particular when this is difficult."
Quoting the Acts of the Apostles, he stated that when it comes to discerning whom to obey, “it is proper to obey God rather than to obey man.”
He also quoted St. Thomas Aquinas to back his point that “where the faith is at risk, it is lawful, even proper, to resist a papal decision publicly, as did Saint Paul to Saint Peter”:
Saint Paul, who was subject to Saint Peter, publicly rebuked him because of an imminent risk of scandal in a matter of faith. And Saint Augustine commented ‘even Saint Peter set an example so that those who governed, but on occasion strayed from the right path, should not refuse as improper a correction, even if originating from their subjects’ (ad Galatians 2, 14).
De Mattei said that while there is no “authority on earth superior” to the Pope, “disobedience” may be in order if he makes an unjust order.
The Pope “cannot change the rule of the faith or the divine constitution of the Church; if this happens, ‘disobedience’ of an order which is inherently unjust may even lead to resistance against the Supreme Pontiff,” he said.
He provided three instances where Catholic resistance today is “morally lawful and proper.”
His first example was of a priest being “compelled to celebrate the new Mass” by a superior or being prevented by the same from “celebrating the traditional Mass.” His second example was of Catholics in China being forced by the Vatican to adopt a “policy of appeasement of a regime” which “openly violates natural law and brutally persecutes Christians.” Finally, he gave the example of Catholics being forced to adopt novel practices introduced in Pope Francis’ post-Synodal Exhortation Amoris laetitia. In all these cases, he said, “resistance and fraternal correction are morally lawful and proper.”
De Mattei said that Catholics wanting to be faithful to Christ must be like the apostles and choose to obey God rather than man.
“We wish to obey the Pope: all Popes, including the current Pope, but if, in the teaching of any Pope, we find an (at least apparent) contradiction, our rule of judgement is natural and divine law, expressed by the bimillenary tradition of the Church.”
“Unfortunately, there is a spirit of rebellion in many in the Church, who rebel against its Tradition and immutable laws. They want a Church which is not that intended by Our Lord. For our part, we wish to consume our souls in an act of obedience and love for the Church and its Tradition,” he said.
The professor addressed those who hold that the Pope should be obeyed, no matter what he says or does.
“We must explain that obedience has a foundation, has a purpose, has conditions, has limits. Only God has no limits: He is immense, infinite, eternal. Every creature is limited and that limit defines his essence. Therefore neither unlimited authority, nor unlimited obedience, exists on earth,” he said.
"Authority is defined by its limits, and obedience is also defined by its limits. Awareness of these limits leads to perfection in the exercise of authority and perfection in the exercise of obedience. The insuperable limit of authority is respect for the divine law and respect for the divine law is also the insuperable limit of obedience. We must be aware of the limits of obedience and respect them, in particular when these limits are not respected by the authority concerned.”
De Mattei concluded by calling obedience to God in the face of erring Church leaders the “gravest path to sanctity today.”
“To the authority which exceeds these limits, we must mount firm resistance, which may become public. This is the heroism of our time, the gravest path to sanctity today,” he said.
“To become saints means doing the will of God, doing the will of God means obeying His law always, in particular when this is difficult, in particular when this places us in conflict with the law of man,” he added.
The professor said that everything in his talk can be reduced to two words: “God alone.”
LifeSiteNews is pleased to provide de Mattei’s talk in full.
Obedience and resistance in the history and doctrine of the Church
Roberto de Mattei
Rome Life Forum
Angelicum – 18 May 2018
To speak of resistance in Catholic history and doctrine by no means signifies an apologia for disobedience and rebellion. On the contrary, I will make an apologia for obedience. It is the virtue of obedience, not disobedience, that makes lawful Catholic resistance to familial, political and religious authorities, when they violate divine and natural law.
This is a necessary premise, because we must avoid the danger of adopting a psychological attitude of opposition to authority, which has nothing to do with Catholic faith and morality.
The moral virtue of obedience
When we speak of obedience, what generally comes to mind is the vow taken by the religious, the most difficult to maintain and hence the most perfect of the three vows taken, because it sacrifices what is most important, namely one’s own will. Yet, more importantly, obedience is a moral virtue. Saint Thomas defines obedience as a moral virtue which renders the will ready to carry out the orders of superiors. (1) If we obey our lawful superiors, we obey God, because all power comes from Him (Romans 13, 1). Therefore, like all virtues, obedience has a divine, not a human, foundation.
The moral virtue of obedience derives from the Decalogue. The fourth Commandment tells us: honour your father and your mother. The family is the first place where a human being learns the value of obedience. The fourth Commandment imposes a duty to obey not only one’s parents, but all authorities, as an expression of the Will of God which, as Saint Thomas explains, is the first rule of the order for all created wills. (2)
This Commandment, which, being an expression of natural law, imposes obedience to lawful authorities and lawful legislation, is universal and absolute, as is the fifth Commandment, which tells us not kill, and the sixth, which tells us not to commit impure acts.
Yet obedience has an additional supernatural foundation and is the rule of the spiritual life of every Christian.
Saint Paul says Jesus Christ was “obedient unto death, death on the cross! (Philippians 2, 8)”. Following the example of the Divine Master and in accordance with divine law, the Saints did not merely obey the authorities: they sought to obey the will of others, while renouncing their own. Blessed is he who never acts upon his own will, but simply and solely that of others, be they parents, superiors, husband or wife, even the neighbour we encounter and should love as ourselves, according to an order of charity defined by Saint Thomas in the Summa. (3)
The opposite of obedience is disorderly affirmation of the “1”, egoism, the search for oneself and one’s own will, which leads us into sin. Sin is, always and above all, an act of disobedience. Therefore Saint Paul tells us “by the one man’s disobedience, the entire human race were made sinners” (Romans, 5, 19). Christian society is a society regulated by obedience and animated by love of God and one’s neighbour.
A diabolical society is a society of disorder and disobedience. Juan Donoso Cortés observes: “If sin is nothing more than disobedience and rebellion, and if disobedience and rebellion are nothing more than disorder, and disorder is evil, it follows that evil, disorder, rebellion, disobedience and sin are things in which reason perceives absolute identity, just as good, order, submission and obedience are things in which reason perceives full likeness. The conclusion is that subordination to the divine will constitutes the highest good, whilst sin is the pre-eminent evil." (4)
Are subjects bound to obey their superiors in all things?
The principle that obedience is due to superiors because they represent the authority of God Himself has important consequences. In the familial, political and ecclesiastical order, our superiors represent the authority in which they themselves respect and ensure respect of divine law. This law is not divine because imposed on us by our superior, but because its foundation is in itself, that is in God, who is its author. He who has authority, says Saint Paul, is “God’s minister working for your good (Romans, 13, 4)”. However, love for the will of God may lead us to refuse authorities and laws which refuse God and which, in refusing God, impair His glory and imperil souls.
Therefore, when Saint Thomas poses the question “Are subjects bound to obey their superiors in all things?” (5), his answer is negative.
As explained by Doctor Angelicum, the reasons why a subject cannot be bound to obey its superior in all things are twofold.
Firstly: because of a command from a higher authority, given that the hierarchy of authorities must be respected.
Secondly: if a superior commands a subject to do unlawful things. For example, when children are not bound to obey their parents in the matter of contracting a marriage, preserving virginity or similar matters.
Saint Thomas concludes: “Man is subject to God absolutely, and in all things, internal and external: he is therefore bound to obey God in all things. However, subjects are not bound to obey their superiors in all things, but in certain things only. (…) Hence one can distinguish three types of obedience: the first, being sufficient for salvation, obeys in obligatory matters only; the second, being perfect, obeys in all lawful things; the third, being disordered, obeys in unlawful matters also.” (6)
This means obedience is not blind or unconditional, but has limits. Where there is sin, mortal or otherwise, we have not merely a right, but a duty to disobey. This also applies in circumstances where one is commanded to do something harmful to the spiritual life.
But who tells us that an order from our superiors is unlawful? We are told this by our conscience which, rather than a nebulous sentiment of the spirit, is the right judgement of reason on our actions, the ultimate judgement on what we should or should not do. Conscience has no inherent norm, but must be subject to moral law, which is founded on divine law. The greatest act of obedience we can perform is the obedience of our conscience to moral law.
Out of love for God, we must be ready for such acts of supreme obedience to His law and His will, which are severed from the ties of false human obedience. God requires us only to sanctify ourselves; when the law imperils our sanctification, we have the right to oppose it.
The martyrs did not obey the authorities of the State, who imposed on them a requirement to worship idols. Nor did they obey parents, children, husbands and wives, who asked them to escape martyrdom for the good of the family.
Saint Thomas More was a loyal servant of Henry VIII, but did not do what Henry wanted, nor even what his wife Alice asked in their final words to one another, when she pleaded: "Do you want to abandon us, myself and my unhappy family? Do you want to renounce this life of domestic bliss which, even a short time ago, pleased you so much? ". But Thomas answered: “For how many years, my dear Alice, do you believe I could enjoy these earthly pleasures, which you depict with such persuasive eloquence? – Twenty years, at least, God willing. – But, darling wife, you are not a good negotiator: what is twenty years compared with a blessed eternity?”
Just and unjust law
Natural law, to which our conscience must submit, is an objective and immutable order of truth and moral values. Reason discovers this order above all in our own hearts, because this order is a law written “on the human heart by the very finger of the Creator” (Romans 2, 14-15). Moral law is valid for each man, specifically because impressed on the conscience of each: this could not be so unless moral law is rooted in our human nature.
Each positive law which runs counter to natural and divine law is unjust and the authority which claims to impose it is abusing its power.
The concepts of just and unjust law come to us not from the modern philosophy of natural law, but from mediaeval law and theology, which inherited them from Greek and Roman philosophy and developed them in greater depth and detail.
Professor Wolfgang Waldstein is the author of a celebrated study entitled Written on the heart. Natural law as the foundation of a human society, (7) in which he demonstrates that natural law has been known and practised by men from ancient times. Waldstein recalls the famous quotation from Sophocles (496-404 a. C.) in the tragedy Antigone, cited repeatedly by Aristotle: “I could not, through the arrogance of one man, bring upon myself punishment from the gods” (8). The Roman jurists, in particular Cicero, in his writings on the res publica (De republica), laws (De legibus) and duties (De officiis), developed the notions of Greek philosophy. Roman law was collected in the work Digesta, published by the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian in 533 A.D. As a result of the rediscovery and study of this work in the Middle Ages, the first university in Europe, the University of Bologna was born, whose influence on mediaeval thought was decisive.
The teachers at Bologna included Gratian (1075/80-1145/1157), great codifier of the Church’s canon law: a system in which the authority of Holy Scripture, decrees promulgated by Popes and Councils and the tradition of the Church are added to the authority of natural law.
The Carlyle brothers, authors of a celebrated history of political doctrines, recall that mediaeval jurists drew a precise distinction between natural or divine law and the positive law formulated by man. (9) Henri de Bracton (c. 1216-1268), in his De legibus et consuetudinibus Angliae, affirms that there is no king where the will is substituted for the law: "Non est enim rex, ubi dominatur voluntas et non lex" (10). This is not an isolated saying - as emphasised by the Carlyles - but the synthetic enunciation of a principle which permeates the entire constitutional structure of mediaeval society (11).
The most important mediaeval political concept, as concluded by the Carlyle brothers, is the supremacy of the law, not as the expression of the will of the ruler, but rather in its twofold aspects of natural law and customary law, born of the traditions of a community made up of the king, the nobility and the people. (12)
The principle of the “sovereign de legibus solutus” can be traced to the jurists of Philip the Fair and thereafter, in the XIVth century, Marsilius of Padua and William of Ockham. It is this principle which has given rise to the modern-day concept that the sovereignty of the lawgiver is not limited by a superior authority. However, according to the mediaeval notion, the sovereign, being the source of civil law, is subject to the natural and divine law which is binding on every human being. And where there is conflict between the human and the divine law, “it is proper to obey God rather than to obey man (Acts, 5 29).” (13)
This concept of the law belongs to the Magisterium of the Church.
In his Encyclical Quod numquam of 15 February 1875 to the Prussian episcopate, Pius IX affirms: “It is proper to obey God rather than to obey man." (Ap. 2,3) In addition, let them know that each one of you is prepared to give tribute and homage to Caesar in those matters which are subject to civil authority and power (not as a result of threats, but according to the law of conscience)."
Leo XIII cites this in his Encyclical Libertas: in the “tyrannical Governments”, “where (…) the justifying reason for a command is in opposition to the eternal law of the divine Empire, then disobedience to men in order to obey God becomes a duty.” (14)
While in his Encyclical Diuturnum Leo XIII emphasises the sacred nature of authority and the duty of obedience, in the Encyclical Sapientiae Christianae on the duties of Christian citizens, he explains that, when laws promulgated by the State are in conflict with the divine law and the authority is serving injustice, “resistere officium est, parere scelus”, then “it is proper to resist and reprehensible to obey.” (15) These concepts are reiterated in the Letter Officio sanctissimo to the archbishops and bishops of Bavaria of 22 December 1887 (16), where he affirms that “if the inevitable alternatives are posed, either to disobey the commands of God or to please men, he openly endorses the memorable and most worthy response of the apostles: “it is proper to obey God rather than to obey man” (Acts 5, 29)” (17).
John Paul II reiterates this in Evangelium Vitae: “From the early days of the Church, apostolic preaching has inculcated in Christians a duty to lawfully constituted authorities (Romans13, 1-7; 1 Pt. 2, 13-14), while at the same time issuing a firm admonishment to obey God rather than to obey man (Acts 5, 29)." (18)
Power is lawfully exercised when it respects life, freedom of education, the family, natural marriage, private ownership and religious and moral principles. However, when a State legislates against the laws of God and the Church, when it violates moral and natural law, when it persecutes and discriminates against the good, it is an iniquitous State which must be combated and condemned. It is therefore possible to disobey through obedience, with the result that apparent disobedience is in fact a more perfect form of obedience.
The right of resistance
When faced with an unjust law or governance, Catholics have a right to act, even placing themselves outside the law (18). The uprising in the Vendée, the Neapolitan Santa Fede movement and the Cristero rebellion in Mexico provide us with a strong example of resistance by the Catholic people against an unlawful power. History offers us further examples of intervention by ecclesiastical authorities against laws and authorities. The defender of divine and natural law is in fact the Church, on which, in the final instance, it is incumbent to determine whether a law does or does not reflect the divine and natural order. This authority is the foundation of the right of excommunication and deposition exercised by the Pope, even against kings and emperors. (20)
When Elizabeth I of the House of Tudor came to the throne, the Catholic Church was persecuted by Elizabeth, dubbed by contemporaries filia sanguinis. On 14 November 1569, Catholics in the north of England rebelled, raising the old flag with the Cross and five wounds of Christ which flew in 1536 under Henry VIII. On 27 February 1570, Pius V promulgated in Concistory the Bull Regnans in excelsis, in which he declared Queen Elizabeth I guilty of heresy and encouragement of heresy and therefore subject to excommunication, and declared that her claimed right to the English crown was forfeited: her subjects were no longer bound by an oath of allegiance and were not permitted, under pain of excommunication, to pledge obedience to her. (21) Pius V was criticised because this act led to a recrudescence of persecution. Possession and distribution of the Bull were considered acts of high treason. Of the many martyrs, we remember Blessed John Felton who, on 8 August 1570, was hung, drawn and quartered at St Paul’s Cathedral for publicly displaying the Excommunication Bull issued by the Pope against the Queen. Had Pius V been required to follow the principles applied by John XXIII and Paul VI to their dealings with Communist regimes, he would have had to apply against Elizabeth I a policy which we might today define as westpolitik. Yet Pius V was a Pope who governed the Church supranaturally, without seeking approval from the world, and wished to affirm the principle that it is proper to obey God rather than to obey man. Elizabeth’s Neronian decrees were never applied to the letter and the persecutory legislation of the last Tudor did not achieve its objective, which was to root out the Catholic faith completely from English soil. (22) The Catholics had no fear: between 1580 and 1585 a new wave of persecution spread throughout England and the first missionaries from the Society of Jesus, including St Edmund Campion, trained in English seminaries in Rome and Douai, landed incognito on British soil.
In his Encyclical Firmissimam constantiam of 28 March 1937, addressed to Catholic Mexicans, Pius XI recalls that obedience can never be a supreme value. “ It is therefore natural that, when the most elementary religious and civil freedoms are under threat, Catholic citizens should certainly not resign themselves to a renunciation of those freedoms. However, the assertion of these rights and freedoms may also be more or less opportune and more or less energetic, according to the circumstances”. If the powers constituted “rise up against justice and truth to the point of destruction of the very foundations of authority, it would be difficult to justify the condemnation of citizens who, through lawful and suitable means, join together to defend themselves and the Nation against persons who avail themselves of public power to bring about its ruin.” (23)
Pius XI then recalls the general principles, always to be kept in mind, and no different from those of Saint Thomas, inviting Mexican Catholics to have “the supranatural vision of life, the religious and moral education and ardent zeal to spread the kingdom of Christ which Catholic Action proposes to offer. In the face of a happy alliance of consciences which have no intention of renouncing the liberty claimed for them by Christ (Galileans 4, 31), what human force or power could yoke them to sin? What dangers, what persecutions, what trials could separate souls so strengthened by the love of Christ? (cf. Romans 8, 35).” (24)
The Prussian example
Our examples have to date been taken from Catholic practice and doctrine. But I would like to recall an example of resistance to unjust laws which comes to us from a world not specifically Catholic. The Countess Marion Döhnoff (1909-1992), a well-known German writer and journalist from an old Prussian family, evoked in her memoirs the anti-Nazi plot of 20 July 1944. (25) Many of those in Germany who dared to challenge Hitler were Prussian, predominantly senior State officials, diplomats and the military, united not by an ideology, but by a tradition of honour, cultivated for centuries by families accustomed to serve their country in war and in peace.
These men had not studied Saint Thomas of Aquinas, but their consciences, awareness of good and evil, the just and the unjust, led them to perceive a need to rebel against Hitler. The supreme holocaust which these opponents of Hitler had to confront, even before the loss of their lives, was the principle of obedience which formed the keystone of their moral education. No tradition other than that of the Prussian military had cultivated with such strength and sincerity the principle of obedience to lawful authority. Yet the courage to disobey unjust orders, the Libertas oboedientiae, is also part of the Prussian tradition, whose history contains similar examples. The headstone in the Brandenburg Margraviate in memory of Johann Friedrich Adolf von der Marwitz, who refused to carry out Frederick II’s order to sack the Castle of Hubertusburg, contains the following epitath: “He lived through heroic times in the reign of Frederick and fought every war with him. He chose disfavour where obedience did not bring honour.” (26)
Honour can be forfeited by putting blind obedience of one’s superiors or alignment with the mainstream trend before the interests of one’s own group or movement, religious institution, family and natural and divine law, in short, putting the interests of a human reality before the principle of justice, born of conscience, the ultimate source of which is in divine law.
Are the faithful bound to obey the Pope in everything?
No greater sacrifice can be asked than rebellion by someone educated to obey and serve. To love one’s country and desire its defeat in the name of that love constitutes an extreme sacrifice. The fate of the conspirators on 20 July was in this sense bitter. They not only underwent trials followed by torture and barbaric death sentences, but were also misunderstood by many of their fellow countrymen, and their enemies, who cast doubt on their patriotism although many had proved their valour and sustained wounds on all fronts. Yet there is a crisis of conscience more acute than that encountered by the Russian nobility in the face of Hitler. It is the crisis of conscience experienced by many Catholics in the face of unjust orders from ecclesiastical authorities, even the Pope.
Is it possible that a bishop, Episcopal conference, Council or Pope can fall into error or heresy, and expect to be followed on this path? What, in such circumstances, should the faithful do? Once again, we seek an answer from Saint Thomas.
In his various works, Doctor Angelicum teaches that, where the faith is at risk, it is lawful, even proper, to resist a papal decision publicly, as did Saint Paul to Saint Peter. Indeed “Saint Paul, who was subject to Saint Peter, publicly rebuked him because of an imminent risk of scandal in a matter of faith. And Saint Augustine commented “even Saint Peter set an example so that those who governed, but on occasion strayed from the right path, should not refuse as improper a correction, even if originating from their subjects” (ad Galatians 2, 14).” (27)
Saint Paul’s resistance was manifested as a public correction of Saint Peter. Saint Thomas devotes an entire question to fraternal correction in the Summa, explaining that it is an act of charity, superior to treatment of the sick in body or almsgiving, “Because, in it, we combat evil, which is sin, in a brother.” (28) Fraternal correction can also be directed by subjects to their superiors, and by the laity against prelates. “Since however a virtuous act needs to be moderated by due circumstances, it follows that when a subject corrects his superior, he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not with impudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect.” (29) If there is a danger to the faith, subjects are bound to rebuke their prelates, even publicly: “Therefore, due to the risk of scandal in the faith, Paul, who was in fact subject to Peter, rebuked him publicly.” (30)
If Peter, Prince of the Apostles, was rebuked, cannot a successor who strays from the faith be fraternally corrected? The response of Saint Thomas is positive, as is that of Gratian, Prince of Canonists and author of a celebrated Decretum (1140), equivalent, in the field of law, to the contents of the Summa, in the field of theology.
The Pope, recalls Gratian, is bound by the laws of which he is custodian and cannot impose canons which run counter to the authority of the Gospels or the rulings of the Fathers. The axiom Prima Sedes non judicabitur a quoquam, (31) according to which no human authority is superior to the Pope, admits one exception: the sin of heresy. Reiterating an assertion ascribed to Saint Boniface, Bishop of Mainz, and quoted by Ivo of Chartres, (32) Gratian affirms that the Pope a nemine est iudicandus, nisi deprehendatur a fide devius. (33)
The Roman Pontiff has full and immediate authority over all the faithful, and there is no authority on earth superior to him, but he cannot change the rule of the faith or the divine constitution of the Church; if this happens, “disobedience” of an order which is inherently unjust may even lead to resistance against the Supreme Pontiff. (34) This is a rare, but possible, circumstance, which does not violate, but confirms, the rule of devotion and obedience of every Catholic to He who is called to confirm the faith of his brothers.
Resistance may be private, but also public, and assume the form of filial or fraternal correction. The Dictionary of Catholic Theology affirms that fraternal correction is a precept which is not optional, but obligatory, in particular for those in positions of responsibility in the Church, because it derives from natural law and divine positive law. (35)
Spirit of resistance and love of the Church
The Vatican II Council and what followed in the Church has raised grave problems of conscience for many of the faithful. These are problems posed even today by the Pontificate of Pope Francis.
I recall two clear examples of resistance to the ecclesiastical authority which followed the Vatican II Council and preceded the Lefebvre case. I refer to the resistance of Father Calmel to Paul IV’s Novus Ordo and that of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira to the Vatican’s Ostpolitik to the Communist regimes. (36)
In both cases, the attitude was filial, respectful, yet firm and uncompromising, and retains its validity today. No priest can be compelled to celebrate the new Mass and no authority can prevent a priest from celebrating the traditional Mass. No authority can impose a policy of appeasement of a regime, such as the Communist regime, yesterday Russian and today Chinese, which openly violates natural law and brutally persecutes Christians. In both these cases, as in the case of the post-Synod Exhortation Amoris laetitia, resistance and fraternal correction are morally lawful and proper.
In his discourse on the “salus animarum” as the principle of the canonic order on 6 April 2000, Cardinal Julián Herranz, Chairman of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, reiterated this as the supreme regulative principle of canonic legislation. Today a legal positivism prevails, aimed at reducing the law to a mere instrument in the hands of those who hold power, forgetting its metaphysical and moral foundation. (37) From this legalist standpoint, which now permeates the Church, that which the authority promulgates is always just. In reality, the Ius divinum is the foundation of every manifestation of the law. God is the living and eternal Law, the absolute principle of all rights. (38) It is for this reason that, where there is conflict between human law and divine law, “it is proper to obey God rather than man” (Acts V, 29).
Spiritual treatises teach us how to behave at times of normality, not in the exceptional times in which we are living. We recognise the supreme authority of the Pope, and his universal governance, but we know that, in the exercise of his authority, the Pope may commit abuses of authority, as has unfortunately occurred in history. We wish to obey the Pope: all Popes, including the current Pope, but if, in the teaching of any Pope, we find an (at least apparent) contradiction, our rule of judgement is natural and divine law, expressed by the bimillenary tradition of the Church. Unfortunately, there is a spirit of rebellion in many in the Church, who rebel against its Tradition and immutable laws. They want a Church which is not that intended by Our Lord. For our part, we wish to consume our souls in an act of obedience and love for the Church and its Tradition.
Perfect Christian obedience aims to fulfil the will of God, perceived in the person of its superior. But where there is iniquitous and unjust exercise of power, explains a Passionist theologian, “the refusal of a command and prohibition is rightful disobedience, not rebellion against the person of the superior, but a protest against the latter’s ideas, intentions and directives.” (39)
According to Father Zoffoli, the worst evils of the Church do not originate from the malice of the world, interference or persecution of the laity or other religions, but above all from the human elements which make up the Mystical Body: the laity and the clergy. “It is the disharmony produced by insubordination of the laity to the work of the Clergy and of the Clergy to the will of Christ.” (40)
We could add that, in the insubordination of the Clergy to Christ, experienced many times in history, there is one example rarely acknowledged by history, but certainly the most serious: rebellion against the will of Christ by the Supreme Pastor of the Church, because there is no other act which leads to disorientation, corruption of the faith and apostasy of the faithful.
What to do therefore? To seek the answer in a spirit of true obedience. A person who says the Pope should always be obeyed is frequently a person who is anarchical and disobedient in his spiritual life because he has the rule of life in himself, not in objective and absolute moral law.
We must however explain that there is a true and a false obedience. True obedience is the obedience of a person who, in obeying, is able to rise to and unite his will with that of God.
False obedience is that of a person who divinizes man, who represents authority, and accepts unlawful orders from the latter.
We must explain that obedience has a foundation, has a purpose, has conditions, has limits. Only God has no limits: He is immense, infinite, eternal. Every creature is limited and that limit defines his essence. Therefore neither unlimited authority, nor unlimited obedience, exists on earth. Authority is defined by its limits, and obedience is also defined by its limits. Awareness of these limits leads to perfection in the exercise of authority and perfection in the exercise of obedience. The insuperable limit of authority is respect for the divine law and respect for the divine law is also the insuperable limit of obedience. We must be aware of the limits of obedience and respect them, in particular when these limits are not respected by the authority concerned.
To the authority which exceeds these limits, we must mount firm resistance, which may become public. This is the heroism of our time, the gravest path to sanctity today. To become saints means doing the will of God, doing the will of God means obeying His law always, in particular when this is difficult, in particular when this places us in conflict with the law of man.
Many, in the course of history, have manifested heroic behaviour, resisting the unjust laws of the political authority. Greater still is the heroism of those who have resisted the imposition by the ecclesiastical authority of doctrines which diverge from the Tradition of the Church. Filial, devout, respectful resistance, which does not lead to departure from the Church, but multiplies love for the Church, for God, for His law, because God is the foundation of every authority and every act of obedience.
Fundamentally, everything is reduced to two words: GOD ALONE
1 St. Thomas of aquinas, Summa theologica, II-IIae, q. 104, a. 1, ad 3.
2 Ibidem, ad 2.
3 Ibidem, q. 26.
4 Juan Donoso Cortés, Essay on Catholicism, Liberalism and Socialism, in Complete Works, edited by Carlos Valverde, s.i., BAC, Madrid 1970, page.581.
5 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-IIae, q. 104, a. 5.
6 Ibidem, ad 3.
7 Wolfgang Waldstein, Written on the heart. Natural law as the foundation of a human society, Giappichelli, Turin 2014. By the same author, cfr. General theory of law, Pontificia Università Lateranense, Rome 2001.
8 Sophocles, Antigone, v. 458.
9 Robert W. - Alexander J. Carlyle, Mediaeval political thought, tr. it. Laterza, Bari-Rome 1956-1968 (1903-1936), vol. I, pp. 150-151.
10 H. de Bracton, De legibus et consuetudinibus Angliae, Kraus Reprint, Vaduz 1964, Chapter I, 8, 5 (fol. 5b).
11 R.W. - A. J. Carlyle, op. cit., vol. II, page. 83.
12 Ibidem, vol. IV, page 5.
13 Roberto de Mattei, Necessary sovereignty, Reflections on the deconstruction of the State and its consequences for society, François-Xavier de Guibert, Paris 2000, page 38 e seq.
14 Leo XIII, Enc. Libertas, of 20 June 1888, in Enchiridion on Encylicals (= EE), EDB, Bologna 1995, page 449 (pp. 433-477).
15 Leo XIII, Enc. Sapientiae christianae of 10 January 1890, in EE, page 541 (pp. 531-575).
16 Leo XIII, Letter Officio sanctissimo to the archbishops and bishops of Bavaria of 22 December 1887, in EE, pp. 1416-1449.
17 Ivi, p. 1435.
18John Paul II, Encylical Evangelium vitæ of 25 March 1995, nos. 73-74, in Teachings, XVII, 1 (1995), Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Rome 1997, page 809.
19 Cfr. Reginaldo Pizzorni o.p., The philosophy of war according to St Thomas of Aquinas, Edizioni Studio Domenicano, Bologna 2003, pp. 721-768.
20 Alfons M. Stickler, Priesthood and kingdom in new research in the XII and XIIIth centuries on decrees and decretalists leading to the decretals of Gregory IX, in Priesthood and kingdom from Gregory VII to Boniface VIII, Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Rome 1954, page 15 (pp. 1-26)..
21 Bullarium Romanum, S. Franco, H. Fory and H. Dalmazzo editoribus, AugustaeTaurinorum 1857-1872, vol. VII, 810 et seq.; Ludwig von Pastor History of the Popes from the late Middle Ages, Descléé, Rome 1942, vol, VIII, pp. 413 et seq. Joannes B. Lo Grasso, s.j., Ecclesia et Status. Fontes selecti iuris publici ecclesiastici, Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Rome 1952, pp. 250-254.
22 Louis Antheunis, Persecutory catholic legislation in the reign of Elizabeth Ist of England, in “Review of Ecclesiastical History”, 4 (1955), pp. 908-909 (pp. 900-909).
23 Pius XI, Encyclical Firmissimam constantiam of 28 March 1937, in EE, V, page 1225 (pp. 1206-1233).
24 Ivi, page 1227.
25 Marion Döhnoff, For honour, Il Minotauro, Rome 2002.
26 In This was Prussia. Testimonies of Prussianism, edited by Hans-Joachim Schoeps, Volpe, Rome 1965, p. p. 130.
27 St. Thomas of aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 33, a. 4, ad 2.
28 Ibidem. a. 1.
29 Ibidem, a. 4, ad 3. Cfr. anche In 4 Sententiarum, Dist. 19, q. 2, a. 2
31 Gratian, Decretum, Dist. XXI, c. 7, Nunc autem.
32 Ivo of Chartres, Decretales, ParsV, cap. 23.
33 Gratian, Decretum, Pars I, Dist. XL, c. 6.
34 Arnaldo Xavier da Silveira, Public resistance to decisions of the ecclesiastical authority, in “Christianity”, 13 (September-October 1975), pp. 6-9.
35 Dictionary of Catholic Theology, vol. III, col. 1908.
37 Cfr. Don Arturo Cattaneo, Ecclesiological foundations of Canon Law, Marcianum Press, Venice 2011.
38 Cfr. Ius divinum, edited by Juan Ignacio Arrieta, Marcianum Press, Venice 2010.
39 Father Enrico Zoffoli, Power and obedience in the Church, Maurizio Minchella editore, Milan 1996, page 67.
40 Ivi, page 68.
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