How to Properly Understand the Role of the Papacy (Guest: Dr. Peter Kwasniewski)

Crisis Point

Interview Transcript

The controversies surrounding Pope Francis have led many to rethink the papacy itself, with some transforming the pope into a political leader to be followed in all things, and others rejecting his authority entirely. What is the Catholic way to look at the papacy?

Links:

The Road from Hyperpapalism to Catholicism (book) by Peter A. Kwasniewski

Rethinking the Papacy (Crisis Point podcast)

The “Spirit of Vatican I” as a Post-Revolutionary Political Problem (article)

On non-infallible teachings of the Magisterium and the meaning of “obsequium religiosum” (article)

The Morality of Correcting the Pope (article)

Defending the Faith Against Present Heresies (book)

Watch on Odysee:

Watch on YouTube:

Transcript:

(Note: We provide this transcript as a service to our readers, but we do not guarantee 100% accuracy in the transcription. Feel free to contact us if you notice any errors.)

Eric Sammons:

The controversy surrounding Pope Francis have led many Catholics to rethink the papacy itself; with some transforming the Pope into a political leader to be followed in all things, and others going the other way and rejecting his authority entirely. What is the proper Catholic way to look at the role of the papacy in the Church?

That’s what we’re going to talk about today on Crisis Point. Hello, I’m Eric Sammons, your host and editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine. Just want to encourage people to like and subscribe to the channel. Do what you can to let other people know about it, as we continue to grow the podcast. And also follow Crisis Magazine at @crisismag at the various social media channels. Okay, let’s get right into it.

We have Dr. Peter Kwasniewski here today. He has written or edited 20 books, as of right now, tomorrow it’ll probably be more, including the one we’re going to talk about the most, which is, The Road From Hyperpapalism to Catholicism from, I want to make sure I pronounce it right. Is it Arouca Press?

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Yes.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. By Arouca Press. It’s actually a two-volume series here. And the subtitle of it, I think, is very interesting, so it’s The Road From Hyperpapalism to Catholicism: Rethinking the Papacy in a Time of Ecclesial Disintegration. And I, of course, was very interested in this because, as people follow this podcast know, I had a podcast, I think it was last September, about a year ago, called Rethinking the Papacy. And it’s something that a lot of Catholics are doing.

And I think if we’re honest with ourselves, the very phrase, rethinking the papacy, should scare us on some level. Because, obviously, the papacy is a very important aspect of Catholicism. And so it’s not for us to just say, “Okay, let’s do a new type of papacy.” I want to really get into that and say, let’s just start off at the beginning with, “What do you mean by rethink the papacy? Because isn’t the papacy of divine origin, and can’t really be changed?

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Yes, absolutely, Eric. The phrase rethinking the papacy has to be unpacked. I’m not saying the way that Hans Küng might say, “Let’s rethink contraception or something.” No, I mean, I’m not a dissenter at all. The fact is that there is a conception of what it means for the Pope to have full authority and for Catholics to be obliged to follow him, that is a distorted conception. We can see it in a place like Where Peter Is, I know we’ll get to that later on. But there’s a distortion in the understanding of who the Pope is, what his office entails. What is his relationship with tradition, with scripture, with preceding magisterium? And this faulty or false conception of the papacy is actually very damaging to the papacy itself, because it undermines the very purpose for which our Lord instituted the office.

Eric Sammons:

I’ve been one who’s actually been attacked for subtitles in my books as well, because people don’t understand that you condensed things, and you have to fit on a cover and stuff like that. Would it probably be better to say, not as a subtitle, but just in general, more accurate to say rethinking false conceptions of the papacy? Is that probably what you’re trying to do, a better way?

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Right, exactly. Although, maybe more broadly speaking in terms of ecclesiology, our understanding of the Church, we do have to ask what is the Pope’s role within the entire mystical body of Christ? Is he the head of the Church, simply speaking, [inaudible 00:03:53]? Or is he the vicar of the head of the Church, who is Jesus Christ? The eternal and permanent and divine head of the Church. So in a way, there’s a rethinking of the papacy that has to go on, just because I think there’s been a lot of sloppy and superficial thinking in this area.

Catholics have become lazy. In a sense, they’ve wanted to outsource their decision making process to somebody else. At least some Catholics want to do that, other Catholics could care less. But good people, who want to be faithful, who want to not fall into the Protestant pitfall of private judgment, they want to be able to look to an external authority for guidance. And that’s a very healthy, necessary, Catholic instinct, Newman defends that very, very persuasively. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to outsource your conscience, as it were. In fact, you can’t outsource your conscience to another.

Eric Sammons:

What I want to do, just for people who are watching and listening to this, the plan here is I want to try to give strong arguments against Dr. Kwasniewski’s position here, because I think it allows it to come out some. Because this is something that good Catholics are understandably confused about, and trying to understand. And so we really need to bring out what we’re trying to say when we’re saying rethinking the papacy? What is the true Catholic understanding of the papacy?

So before I get into that, though, the different kind of ways to criticize what you’re saying, I first just want you to define hyperpapalism, that’s obviously somewhat of an invented word again. So we need to make sure we have our terms correct. What do you mean? Because the Road from Hyperpapalism to Catholicism, that title means that hyperpapalism is not Catholicism, obviously. So what do you mean by hyperpapalism?

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Yes. Well, Eric, some people have used the term ultramontanism in discussions like this to describe an exaggerated or an excessive deference towards the Pope, or veneration of the person of the Pope, or a kind of blind adulation and adherence to everything the Pope says and does.

The problem with the term ultramontanism is it’s a historical term that could describe a legitimate movement within the 19th century church, in fact, a traditional movement against liberalism. And so in order to avoid any confusion and getting into the weeds unnecessarily, I didn’t use the term ultramontanism, but I coined instead this, I think, more obvious term, hyperpapalism. Really papalism by itself, would’ve been enough, because the ism suggests making too much of it. But I guess for added effect, the Greek hyper prefix, really brings out the idea of, well, to use a favorite word, a hypertrophic, an overgrown reliance on the single figure and office of the Pope.

As opposed to let’s say a reliance on the whole body of the bishops together, all of whom, with the Pope, are successors of the apostles. Or a reliance on the universal and ordinary magisterium, which crosses all the centuries, which is also a measure for the Pope, not something that he stands above.

So it’s only hyper if the Pope is somehow your one and only principle that trumps everything else, it becomes in a sense identified with Catholicism. And that, of course, is not Catholicism and never has been.

Eric Sammons:

As an aside, real quick, I do want to note, I really do like the term hyperpapalism, because for years I use papolatry, and I get that is a little over the top. They’re not idolizing, most people who are hyperpapalists are not actually treating him as an idol to be worshiped. So that was probably not a great term. And also just ultramontanism for the reasons you said, that’s not a great term, because it can be misunderstood. So I do like hyperpapalism. I think it captures it well.

Now, okay, so here’s the thing though, a lot of Catholics today would say, “Is it really possible to overemphasize the role of the Pope?” Here’s an example for my own personal life, my father-in-law passed away, and God rest his soul. Very good Catholic man, was not happy with what happened in the 1960s. I mean, it’s a funny story they tell. That, basically, as his parish in the ’60s that he went to got more the liberal, weird stuff going on. He’d just go find a more traditional one. Then when that one got weird, he’d go find a traditional one, until finally he couldn’t find another one. And he just had to go to the local suburban parish, but he didn’t really like it.

But he gave the advice to his kids, and he was a man of few words, a great, good, and holy man. Man of few words, he would just say, “Follow the Pope. If you follow the Pope, you’ll be okay.” And I remember hearing that when I was engaged and then got married to my wife, thinking, that is beautiful advice. That’s exactly the advice I’m going to give to my own kids. And this was probably, 1990s, early 2000s, and I didn’t think JP II was perfect, but at the same time, if you follow the Pope, you’ll be okay. And I think I even wrote in one of my old books, something about, just, that’s great advice for kids, follow the Pope.

Well, I don’t want to give that advice to my kids today, but a lot of people would say, “Hey, that is still good advice.” I mean, what is wrong with that advice of follow the Pope? Because I think it could lead you astray today.

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Sure. Well, I mean, let’s just admit right from the start that, ideally, if we have a good Pope, we should be able simply to follow the Pope. The problem is that 2000 years of Catholic history shows us that Popes come in all different shapes and sizes, from heroically, saintly Popes to decent Popes, to mediocre Popes, to immoral Popes, to Popes with problematic, doctrinal teaching. Now, granted, there’s an incredible track record for the papacy. I mean, as I mentioned in the book, you’ve got a 2000 year continuous monarchy. There’s nothing like that in human history, I guess, apart from the Egyptian pharaohs, but Egypt isn’t around anymore, so that’s a past example.

But we have this 2000-year unbroken, sacral monarchy, as it were, in which you have a super abundance of saints far more than you should expect from any category of people. And you have very few really, seriously, problematic individuals that theologians and historians have to fight about and try to figure out how this happened. And so the point is that our default position should always be to respect and follow our superiors in Christ. That should be the default of children towards their parents, of wives towards their husbands, of parishioners towards their pastor, of priests towards their bishop, and of everybody towards the Pope. This is the structure of hierarchy. It’s divinely instituted.

But we also know how authority works. There are limits to authority. Any authority other than God’s has to be subordinate to higher authority, to divine authority, to natural law. We talked about this a little bit when we had our interview about my book, True Obedience. And so parents don’t say to their children, “You should obey me, unless I contradict natural and divine law, or ask you to injure yourself,” et cetera, et cetera, and start giving a whole code of exceptions.

And neither does The Ten Commandments, the Ten Commandments says, “Honor your father and your mother.” It doesn’t start giving the exceptional cases where that breaks down, similarly, with husbands and wives, with pastors and parishioners and so forth. And yet it is always the case that there could be a breakdown where an authority starts to teach something, either erroneous or ambiguous or ambivalent or dangerous, misleading, whatever the problem might be, whatever kind of problem it might be, or where they start commanding something, which is unjust, which is injurious, which violates the rights that people have, maybe even rights that they have from divine law.

And so in a way, just by our faith and reason, we have to be able to perceive when there is a conflict of that sort that has arrived. We don’t want it to happen. We pray that God will avert it. And if it does happen, we beg the Lord for deliverance, because we know we can’t solve the problem simply by ourselves. But we can’t simply be automatons who blindly follow whatever a particular leader is saying or whatever he’s doing. We can’t do that with any authority, not even with the Pope. Only God deserves that kind of absolute and total obedience in every situation.

Eric Sammons:

I think it’s the devil’s in the details, because I think even the greatest hyperpapalist today would likely say, “Yes, if Pope Francis said to you, ‘Go kill that man or kill that innocent baby,’ or something like that, you’re not required, and you shouldn’t follow him in doing that.” In other words, you hear this a lot that you do not follow the Pope or any superior in sin. And I think even the most extreme hyperpapalists would acknowledge that as a fundamental principle.

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Well, yeah, but let me push back a bit on that. I mean, I’m not even really so clear that’s true anymore with the real hyperpapalists.

Eric Sammons:

Well, I was actually going to use the example of, if the Pope told you to commit adultery, you wouldn’t do it, but, actually-

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Exactly. That’s what I was thinking about, right?

Eric Sammons:

Yes.

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Let me just step back for a moment, because you talked about your father and his advice. In my book, in the first chapter, I talk about how I used to be a hyperpapalist myself, and it was because of the John Paul II phenomenon. He was a very charismatic figure. There was a kind of cult of personality. He was a bit of a globe-trotting rock star. He made us proud. He taught very clearly about certain things, especially conjugal and sexual morality. I mean, he was like a bolt out of the blue, in the chaos of the Church after Paul VI. John Paul II was really a heroic figure, and somebody that many of us rallied around. I mean, just think about the World Youth Day events and so on.

But there are two aspects there. The negative aspect is that if you followed him more carefully, or that is say, if you look more closely into what he did throughout the long pontificate that he enjoyed, you did start to find problematic things, as well as good things. You found the Assisi inter-religious gatherings, really bizarre, and his defense of them is even more bizarre than the events themselves. You find him kissing the Quran. What in God’s name is that? And you find strange utterances about this or that topic, especially about, say, religious liberty, that every man has an inherent right to choose whatever religion he wants, that even includes that Catholics can have the right to give up Catholicism. I mean, that’s impossible. That’s completely contrary to not only Church teaching in the past, but to reason itself.

So there’s a dark side to the pontificate John Paul II, which I think is now much better known than it was during his illustrious career. And I think we could also see some weaknesses in Pope Benedict, maybe more in Joseph Ratzinger’s theological writings, prior to his pontificate. But even in, say, something like the encyclical Spe Salvi, there are issues with the way he describes hell and purgatory. I know we can’t get too far into the weeds there, but my point is that it’s never a healthy thing to simply pin yourself 100% to the program of a particular Pope, which includes a lot of non-infallible material, a lot of opinions, a lot of theological opinions.

Popes are very free nowadays with their personal opinions about everything from environmentalism to nuclear weapons, to the best way to solve food crises. I mean, they talk about everything all the time, in ways that are difficult, if not impossible, to see as magisterial, as really having some kind of binding force on us.

But let me just skip back to John Paul II, on the positive side, in terms of his strengths as a teacher, as a pastor, if you were following his teaching, let’s say on marriage and family, where he was really the strongest. I would just want to say he was definitely the strongest in that area. And he’s one of the greatest Popes we’ve ever had in terms of marriage and family questions. If you allowed yourself to be deeply formed by him, over two decades, there’s no way, when Pope Francis shows up, that you could simply drop that. And you could drop all that you learned, all the profound wisdom and all the truths that you learned from John Paul II and just drop them, drop Familiaris Consortio, drop Vertatis Splendor and so forth.

Because Pope Francis now has a different approach and a different teaching, in Amoris Laetitia chapter eight, or with the opening to contraception or whatever. So really the people who are hyperpapalists, they cannot allow themselves ever to be deeply formed by any Pope, ever, because they always have to have a sort of gingerly touch on whatever the Pope is saying, lest to the next Pope come along and contradict it or undermine it, right?

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

So really if you want to be formed by a Pope as your teacher, then that’s incompatible with this notion of the magisterium of the moment, and the magical development of doctrine that keeps being invoked by the partisans of Pope Francis.

Eric Sammons:

I think the hyperpapalists though would say, I know they wouldn’t want to be called that, but we know who we’re talking about here, I think a couple arguments, they say, first of all, I do know some might not, but a lot of them would just say, okay, yes, at least in theory, they would agree that you can’t follow Pope in sin or something like that. But they would say, “There’s a big difference between that and of what you’re saying,” in that middle of where do we decide where we do follow the Pope, where we do not follow a Pope?

And the number one place that most of them go to is Lumen Gentium 25. And so just for people, I know you’re familiar with it, but I want to read part of it here, because I want people to know this is a very important text that is used to say that, “Yes, you should follow JP II when he’s Pope, and then you should adjust your thinking for Pope Francis.” In fact, I just, literally, today saw an article that was, basically, saying that Americans have a hard time with Francis, because they can’t adjust their thinking to him, which is implying we’re supposed to adjust.

Lumen Gentium is talking about, this is a document on the Church for people who don’t know from Vatican II, it says, bishop’s teaching communing with the Roman pontiff, so we’re talking about bishops first, are to be respected by all as witnesses to the divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept they’re teaching and adhere to it with religious assent. This religious submission, and here’s where we’re getting to the important part here, of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman pontiff. Even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his Supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgements made by him are sincerely adhered to according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character or the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

Let me just make sure people understand what is kind of being said here, because the argument they’re making is, people like you, Peter, and me, let’s be honest, have a very minimalist view of the papacy that says you only had to follow him when he’s speaking ex cathedra. But yet lumen Gentium is saying the exact opposite. It’s saying, no, it’s not just when you speaking ex cathedra. No, we have to give this religious submission of mind and will, that’s the key phrase right there, to basically the Pope’s teachings, to his magisterium in which that is given a very broad definition.

I think if you pin them on it they might not say, “Yeah, everything he says on a plane,” but when he repeats something, like it mentions here, and he does repeatedly talk about certain things like Amoris Laetitia, I mean, he brings that up all the time. The teaching on the death penalty, he’s been very clear about. I mean, there’s no question exactly what he thinks about that. He’s made that clear. So it seems to fall under what Lumen Gentium 25 says. So why is it, as Catholics, are we ignoring what Lumen Gentium 25 says, are we rejecting it? Or are they interpreting it wrong?

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Well, I mean there’s a lot packed into that question. I think this is a good example of where a little learning is a dangerous thing, to use the old expression. There’s a lot going on behind Lumen Gentium 25. So first of all, in context, it’s talking about doctrinal teaching, not disciplinary matters. That’s a very important thing. People can’t just invoke that when they want to talk about, say, prudential policies of Popes or liturgical reforms. So we’re talking about matters of faith and morals in doctrine.

The word that’s translated submission in the English translation is a poor translation. The word in Latin, the meaning submission isn’t even one of the meanings given for it in a typical Latin dictionary, it means respect. It means respect. So then you have to ask, what does it mean for a person to give respect to what a Pope is teaching? And there are some very good articles about this: Christian Brugger, Jeremy Holmes, Michael Sirilla. You can find these articles online that talk about Lumen Gentium 25 and really unpack the meaning of those words.

This passage in Lumen Gentium is not talking about everything that is relevant to this matter of what the Pope teaches. So for example, is the Pope himself bound to anything? Is there anything to which the Pope himself must give adherence? It doesn’t talk about that. That’s not what it’s talking about. It’s talking about the Pope subordinates. But it’s a very interesting thing if you start to think about, well, now, what is it that the Pope himself is bounded by? What are the norms or the limits on what he himself can utter as a legitimate, authentic magisterial teaching?

If it happened that, now, there are some people, some hyperpapalists, take the opinion of Bellarmine, really a kind of extreme version of Bellarmine, and say that, “God would never permit a Pope ever to utter anything in public that is contrary to the Catholic faith.” But, I mean, that seems to me so absurd. I can’t even take that seriously. The second volume of my work, this volume is just a catalog of one thing after another that Pope Francis has said and done that are contrary to known elements of the Catholic faith. So I don’t buy this idea that God would never permit a Pope to go off the rails. No, that’s not true historically. And it’s not true currently.

But if a Pope did go off the rails and if he taught, for example, even if he didn’t openly say, “I’m contradicting the sixth and ninth commandments,” but if what he taught was logically convertible with, or logically necessitated the violation of the sixth and ninth commandments, then it could not be part of his authentic magisterium. And therefore it could not be something to which we could ever possibly be obliged to give respect in adherence.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. There’s so much that Francis has said-

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Yes.

Eric Sammons:

… in his nine years. And so let’s take away all the plain comments, all the things, the support for weird political things, that stuff, and really let’s get down to two things, two examples, which I think most hyperpapalists would say, “This is an example of a teaching, a magisterial teaching that you must give religious submission of mind and will to. Maybe it’s not ex cathedra, and that is a course to teaching of Amoris Laetitia.” I had on Dr. Echeverria a couple weeks ago talking about this, but it basically saying that, yes, there are situations in which a civilly divorced and remarried couple could continue to have relations as a husband and wife, and they could receive communion. That was possible.

And then the other teaching, of course, is on the death penalty, in which-

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Yes.

Eric Sammons:

… even the catechism has been updated, and it talks about it being inadmissible. He does not use the word immoral. And some papal apologists have said, “Well, he’s not saying it’s immoral, because inadmissible, means a different thing.” I have a hard time with that kind of squaring that circle.

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Me too.

Eric Sammons:

I mean, those seem, at least to a lot of people, to fall under Lumen Gentium 25, that we need to give religious submission of mind and will.

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Right. And I’m sorry if I don’t please, everybody about Lumen Gentium 25. What I’m saying is the Amoris Laetitia chapter eight teaching and the death penalty teaching are both contrary to natural law and divine law, and the tradition of the Church, the unanimous, uninterrupted, unbroken tradition of the Church. And therefore they cannot be true and they must not be given assent. And therefore, Lumen Gentium 25 cannot possibly apply to them. It would be like saying that an authority has power to do everything that pertains to that authority. That is a true statement. That’s a universally true statement. If there’s something that doesn’t pertain to the authority of a father or a bishop or a Pope, such as controverting or overturning some element of the Decalogue or of the unbroken moral teaching of the Catholic Church, then it simply doesn’t belong to their authority to do that.

I mean, at that point they are contradicting the rationale of their own office. Now, how can we know that? Okay, this is an important question. We don’t have to be sophisticated theologians with doctorates to figure out that there’s a problem, when a Pope, the 266th Pope, is the first one ever to teach that the death penalty is contrary to the gospel. “Contrary to the gospel,” that’s what he says. It doesn’t say that in the catechism text, but it says it in the one and only source to which the catechism refers, namely, one of Pope Francis’ own speeches. This is what I call the magisterium of me.

It’s like, “Pope Francis, what’s your authority for that?” “Oh, it’s me.” “Okay. Well, great. That’s a nice circular argument. Isn’t it?” So 266th Pope, first one ever to teach this about the death penalty. Well, if we’re supposed to follow the Pope based on the repetition of a certain doctrine, does it not count that there are 265 Popes who’ve taught something either explicitly or implicitly by not teaching against it, and only one who’s taught the opposite? With the point about Amoris Laetitia, it’s even more obvious than the death penalty.

So I’m sorry, but if you’re going to be a human being, that means a rational animal, then you need to use your reason. And everything that we read, everything we hear and everything we judge is based on first principles of reasoning. What are those first principles of reasoning? Aristotle gives them, there are three, the principle of identity, a thing is itself and nothing else. The principle of non-contradiction, a thing cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect. And the principle of the excluded middle, there isn’t something in between being and non-being.

So when we use our reason, we can see a contradiction. We don’t need to Pope to tell us that there’s a contradiction, when we see a contradiction. And in fact, our reasoning is presupposed to receiving anything from the Church, whether it’s a catechism or whether it’s the teaching of a council or an encyclical, or the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas or whatever it is. Our reasoning is always presupposed. Now, we can be wrong in a particular case of reasoning, but we can’t escape the need to use our reason and to use our faith informed reason, to reach conclusions about what we can and cannot accept and what we may and may not do.

Eric Sammons:

I think the argument against that would be, well-

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

There’s no argument against it, because the moment somebody starts arguing, they’re using their reason. Do you see what I’m saying?

Eric Sammons:

No. I mean, the argument against, that what Francis is doing is not violating reason. Because these are developments that you just have the inability to see how it’s not contradictory, but it’s actually a development. And you read the arguments, I have this book about Amoris Laetitia, where they talk about, well, what the Pope is doing is he’s advancing classical Catholic moral theology, and he’s just developing it. And so that-

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

I know that they say that, but it doesn’t… First of all, the real experts in moral theology who have studied these questions have shown very clearly what the contradictions are. I mean, they’re as bold as night and day. I mean, there’s a whole book. I don’t know if I have a copy of it right here. I think I do. It’s a book a that everybody who’s serious about these questions needs to know, needs to get. It’s called Defending the Faith Against Present Heresies published by Arouca Press.

This book lays out as clearly as possible, I mean, to the satisfaction of any rational being, that there are multiple points at which Pope Francis contradicts reason, faith, the prior magisterium and so forth, explicitly contradicts them. And so, as far as I’m concerned, the people you’re talking about, they are mystifiers, they’re making the papacy into magic and saying, “The Pope can pull a rabbit out of a hat and call it development of doctrine.”

Or let’s say, “He can pull a dove out of a Miter.” That’s how I like to say it. So it’s magic. It’s a magic show. It’s smoke and mirrors. You know what that sounds like to me, that sounds like a sect. That sounds like the Moonies. That sounds like the Mormons. My wife is a convert for Mormonism. From talking to her and from experiences that I’ve had, I know how sectarians think. They say, “Shut off your reason,” that’s deceptive, “and just follow what the great leader says.” That’s how all of these systems work. That’s a perversion. That’s an ideology. That’s extremely dangerous.

Eric Sammons:

I mean, that is the argument, is that somehow a development… But I think people who understand what Newman, particularly when he wrote about development of doctrine, he made very clear that it teaches you not become something that it isn’t, like all of a sudden it contradicts the earlier one. And when you see Familiaris Consortio literally says that a couple that’s divorced and remarried cannot receive the communion, if they’re engaged in marital relations.

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

And John Paul II, and not just John Paul II, traces the impossibility of a couple continuing to receive communion, if they’re still living as husband and wife. He traces that impossibility to the divine law.

Eric Sammons:

That’s the key point.

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

I mean, that’s a serious thing. It’s not like, “Oh, this is a disciplinary matter. We can change it if we want to.” So basically this is what it comes down to, and I cannot emphasize this point often enough, if Pope Francis is right about certain things, then the whole Church has been wrong before him. It’s not just a development. It’s either he’s right, and the rest of them are wrong. In which case he’s cut off the branch on which he’s sitting, and we should just not be Catholics at all, because the Church has been misleading people.

In fact, the Church has been treating people cruelly, with great cruelty for century, after century, after century or Pope Francis is the one who’s mistaken. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s a no-brainer, which hypothesis. I’m a Catholic, therefore, I believe in the Catholic Church. I believe in its indefectibility. I believe in the infallibility of the universal ordinary magisterium. And so I’m going to cut off that lame branch, and not the rest of the tree. I’m not going to cut down the whole tree for the sake of the branch. How could that possibly make any sense?

Eric Sammons:

I want to move on from that form of hyperpapalism, but before I do, I do want to mention, I just saw this morning a tweet that I think encapsulates this. Somebody wrote, remember Pope Francis praised the George Floyd protests. That was the whole tweet. And it was basically saying, I mean, the implication was, therefore, if you’re Catholic, you also have to praise and support the George Floyd protest. I mean, it’s impressive how many things you can get wrong in such a short tweet. Because, I mean-

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Yes.

Eric Sammons:

… it’s like, first of all, what does it mean he praised them? What part of the protest did he praises? And, of course, fundamentally to our discussion, who cares that he praised them?

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Yes. And this is something I should mention too, one of the great problems of modern Catholicism, and by modern Catholicism, now I’m talking about more like 150 years period, modern in that sense, is that, first of all, modern philosophy and the movement of modern culture has been towards irrationalism, skepticism, materialism, atheism. So there’s been a real crisis of reason, and most people are not well trained anymore in how to use their reason, and even how to recognize a contradiction. All you have to do is look at Twitter for about five minutes to see people contradicting themselves, and not even realizing it.

And so the power of reason has grown weak and feeble right now. I mean, I have a doctorate in philosophy I’ve taught philosophy for decades, for me, logic is, that’s the infrastructure, that’s the skeleton of everything. Everything rests on logic. It’s either good logic, sound logic, or bad logic, flawed logic. So I think because of this attack on reason that a lot of Catholics no longer feel confident in their reason or their judgment at all, and they want to outsource everything just to the external authority, as I said before.

And so in a way they’re actually looking to stop thinking. They just want to be told what to think and what to do. And this is a bizarre thing, because no one in the history of Catholicism has ever considered that to be the model of an adult Catholic. An adult Catholic is one who knows his faith, loves his faith, lives his faith spontaneously from within, with a real natural sense of what it is. Not just sort of waiting for the lays bulletin to come out, to tell him what to think and what to do. You can’t even live that way. Even if you wanted to.

If you put that together with this kind of inflation of the magisterium where laypeople, they don’t often read scripture, they don’t read traditional sources and documents, like the Church Fathers, The Doctors, the liturgical texts, and so on. Their only source of information for a long time now has just been what comes from the Vatican, what comes from Rome. This is a very bizarre narrowing of what Catholicism is, what the sources of Catholicism are. I mean, frankly, Augustine Aquinas, the prophet Isaiah, the Gospel of John, the Tridentine liturgy, these things have far more to do with what Catholicism is than Pope Francis’ speeches have to do with it. And so it’s strange if you cut yourself off from the sources, you sort of lose the ability to recognize what is and what isn’t Catholic. You see what I mean?

Eric Sammons:

Right. We’ve been talking about one part of the hyperpapalists camp, which is the people who take Lumen Gentium 25 and make it, basically, “We have to just agree almost with everything the Pope says.” And they always say, “No, I’m not saying that,” but then they literally agree with everything Pope Francis says. But then there is another group within the hyperpapalists camp, and it’s typically sedevacantist, people who don’t think Francis is the Pope. And they, typically, what they do is obviously they’re not going to go to Vatican II for their support, but they look at the era, particularly, around Vatican I, and following Vatican I. They go back to even post Trent days. But the focus is a lot on 19th century, early 20th century.

And if you read and I know you have, but if somebody reads, for example, papal encyclicals from maybe the early 20th century, they do make statements, popes do make statements that basically say, “You have to agree with the opinions of the Pope.” And so then the sedevacantist, because they have a decent Catholic sense of what it means to be Catholic, they say, “Well, I can’t agree with what this guy who claims to be Pope, people are claiming is Pope. What he says, therefore, he’s not really the Pope.” Why shouldn’t we go down that path? Because we do have church documents that are saying things like, “Agree with the Pope in all things.”

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Right. Well, I look, this is going to scandalize some people, I’m sorry, I can’t help you. I mean, this is why I wrote these books, we need to study and think about these things carefully. But in an interview I have to just say it, Popes are still human beings. They still have the strengths and weaknesses of human beings. They haven’t been, divinized like the ancient Roman emperors used to be considered divine. The Popes are human. And so they carry along with them, the baggage of their own theological and philosophical ideas, their own cultural formation, however good or bad it was. And the Holy Spirit protects them from irrevocably, committing the Church to error and disaster. That is the strict interpretation of the indefectibility of the Church as it applies to the papacy. That is, as it, were the minimalist reading of it.

Not that the mouth Pope is the mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit, which is what you get with some of these hyperpapalists. But just that the Pope is not going to be able to wreck the Church, and he’s not going to be able to bind people to error permanently. That’s what is guaranteed. Everything else, as far as I’m concerned, is fair game. So what does this mean? This means that a Pope himself could have an exaggerated notion of the implications of his own authority. And he could even express that the way that Pope Francis expresses all kinds of verbal gas all the time. The Pope could say, “I’m the Supreme Monarch of all creation. All knees must bow before me. Everybody must agree with every single one of my opinions and whims.” But he would not be more correct for saying that, and for thinking that right.

I mean, in other words, if he’s not going to teach ex cathedra, that’s the case, which no Pope has ever even come close to doing, then his opinion is his opinion. And if the opinion is one that on the face of it makes sense, there’s nothing in it that rubs against what Catholics know to be true from other prior authoritative sources, then of course you could go along with it. But there are times when Pius X says things that make it seem as if he is saying, “I am the only authority in the Church, and no one can question me for any reason whatsoever.”

Well, that’s actually false, so that has to be false for the reasons that I’ve given earlier, and that I’ve give in my book. So do you see what I’m getting at? That the fact that the sedevacantist can quote all of these things really only proves that they have found a certain vein of ultramontanism, of really extreme populism that has almost no parallel in the rest of the history of the Church.

And they’re going to milk that for all it’s worth. And basically say, “well, look, since we don’t have a Pope that lives up to this, and we haven’t for 60 years, by the way, then we obviously have no Pope. We’ve just been abandoned. God has abandoned us. He has not provided a Pope like Pius X or Leo XIII, and so we are just on our own. We’re just on our own.” And at that point, I’m sorry, but that doesn’t seem much different to me from the Protestant notion of an invisible church. The Church is just whoever believes, and in this case, the Catholic Church would be the small sect of people who believe that the Pope is this sort of heroic God man figure who never teaches error, never misleads, never does anything.

It can’t even possibly do that. And so they’re just going to, I guess, be without a Pope forever. I mean, I don’t know what they’re waiting for, how they’re going to get out of that.

Eric Sammons:

What I find is that most sedevacantists, all of their proof text come, typically, from the 19th century, early 20th century, they might have a quote or two from Bellarmine and things like that, which is usually out of context. So they have a great knowledge of that era. And if they follow what the Popes of those days said, strictly, literally speaking, they have a point about, although they don’t have a point saying these Popes today are not Popes, but they have a point at least that of our attitude towards Pope a hyperpapalists view.

What I’ve always thought though, is if you have a bit deeper understanding of Church history, if you go back even the most papalist Catholic in let’s say the 13th century would never talk, frankly, some of the Popes did in the 20th century, about papal authority. And so it’s like, I feel like you have to take it and understand that there was a vein, like you said, within the Church that did fall into hyperpapalism including the Popes. And if you say-

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Yes.

Eric Sammons:

… “Well-

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Yes.

Eric Sammons:

… how dare you say that about Pope?” Well, what are you saying about Francis, sedevacantist? So it’s like, we’re making the same argument there.

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Right. And take Pope John XXII, I mean, he’s one example, he’s not the only example, but he preached false doctrine. He preached an error, let’s just say he preached an error about the afterlife. It was a serious error, however, not just some kind of incidental, trivial thing. And I mean, he said that “the souls of the just would not be admitted to the beatific vision until the end of time.” Well, that’s a pretty serious error. And it certainly flies in the face of what had been taught earlier, and then what was subsequently dogmatically defined by his successor. Benedict XII. But what happened when John XXII preached that? Did everybody just of bow their heads and fold their hands and say, “We have to accept that. We better start rewriting the catechism”? Did they say, “Well, that’s wrong, but out of respect, out of religious submission of intellect and will, we have to go along with what the Pope was saying”?

No, they opposed him. His theologians, Dominicans, Franciscan, they objected to him. They said, “This is false. You have to recant this.” There was a king who got involved, the king of France, who actually threatened the Pope and said, “If you don’t retract this, you better retract this or else.” I’m not really quite sure what he was threatening, but kings and emperors used to be kind of… I mean-

Eric Sammons:

They were threats for real back then.

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Yeah. I mean, sometimes they kept the Church on track, even as other times, they led off into weird directions. So the point is that I think there was a healthier sense all around, prior to the 19th century, that the Church is a body with many organs. It’s a mystical body. It’s not just all head. It’s not this weird sort of alien body in which the head is enormous and all the other limbs or these sort of dwarfed limbs, kind of lame, and they can barely even move in. The head is everything. That’s such a twisted caricature of ecclesiology.

Rather, in pre-modern times especially, as I mentioned, kings and emperors, aristocrats, religious orders, particular religious communities, bishops, these all were, to use a cliche, it was like a 1,000 points of light, a 1,000 points of authority spread throughout the Church, which all interacted and intersected and worked together. But sometimes, as in the United States government checks and balances, sometimes they also were able to be checks and balances to one another. And a Pope could try to do something or to put something through, and at times it just wouldn’t take. It wouldn’t be accepted. So, again, I think one has to get into history more to see how bizarre the current configuration of things really is.

Eric Sammons:

Now, let’s take it then the opposite direction for a minute. So you’re arguing for a more minimalist understanding of the papal office when it comes to defining things and telling us what to think and whatnot, that really does, I think we both agree, is not in keeping with what most, at least a lot of Catholics, maybe 100, 150 years ago would think of the papacy. But now what about though, “Why don’t you just go all the way?” Our Eastern Orthodox friends would say. And I’ve seen this argument a number of times, about you in particular, and I’ve had it against me too, but you’re diminishing the papacy. It seems like you’re arguing then for a more, why not rethink it to match Eastern orthodoxy? Why are you even bothering to keep the papacy if you’re going to diminish it so much?

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

The basic reason is that I have several fundamental, theological objections to Eastern orthodoxy that don’t have to do with the papacy, actually. I have a serious problem with their view of purgatory, with their rejection of the Western view of purgatory on theological grounds. I have a serious problem with their teaching on divorce, where it’s not even consistent. The Orthodox don’t even have a consistent teaching on this question. They’re all over the place, depending upon which branch or which national church or which bishop you, or which source you go to.

I have a problem with their autocephalous, nationalistic, ethnic, state connected ecclesiology, which I think it has been sometimes [inaudible 00:49:15] has been a benefit, but a lot of times it’s been a crippling weight on them. Their tendency to caesaropapism or Erastianism, some kind of state church. And the sort of divisions that have resulted from not having a single, visible head on earth.

I mean, there is a reason why Christ made Peter the head of the band of apostles, and why the ancient Church recognized the Sea of Rome as having a special status. It wasn’t just a primacy of honor, that’s baloney. There’s no way you can get that out of the historical record. And then I have a problem with what they teach about the immaculate conception. I mean, I think their denial of that is blasphemous, so I would never become Eastern Orthodox.

Eric Sammons:

But what about their view of the papacy? Why not embrace their view of the papacy for the Catholic church, even if you don’t take the other stuff.

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

I don’t think though that, I mean, their view of the papacy, in a way, is of a piece with the autocephalous ecclesiology. It’s, “We will agree to be under a head until we decide not to be under a head.” That is to say it, I mean, they don’t have, I think, a fully consistent worked out understanding of ecclesiastical hierarchy. Which, I mean, again, the point at which I seem to be like an each Orthodox is that I don’t turn the Pope into a Supreme absolute Monarch. But I think that’s not a view that has anything to be said for it on any side, whether you’re Catholic or Orthodox.

But to simply go 180 degrees around and say, “Well, the Pope is either only the patriarch of the West or he is just a figurehead or he’s supposed to have some kind of honorific primacy,” that seems to me like very weak, thin gruel. It’s not adequate to the historical record. It’s not adequate to the needs of ecclesiology. It’s not adequate to a good theological account of the manner in which the ecclesiastical hierarchy should reflect the heavenly hierarchy. I mean, they themselves take that very seriously. The ecclesiastical hierarchy should reflect the heavenly hierarchy. Well, the heavenly hierarchy is a monarchy, for sure.

So, yeah, those would be some thoughts. I guess the other point I would just make is this, John Paul II and Benedict XVI both said, on more than one occasion, that “it would be healthy for the Catholic Church to understand the papacy more along the lines of the first millennium, when the East and the West were united.”

And however one interprets that, I mean, that’s a pretty open-ended speculation, but there are some details that were given by both John Paul II and Benedict XVI. However, that would look, either you have to say, “It’s legitimate for me to be entertaining these positions, when two other Popes, prior to Francis, entertain them,” or you’re just going back to the sedevacantists and saying, “Nope, we have to have this grand God on Earth, absolute monarchy, papacy of Leo XIII and Pius X or we have no Pope at all, nothing at all.” And that’s why they reject John Paul II and Benedict XVI as well.

So I guess what I’m saying is, if you don’t reject hyperpapalism, then I think you’re either on the road to a complete subjectivist irrationalism, that’s what I see at Where Peter Is, or you’re on the road to sedevacantism. That’s it, there are no other options. If you want to be an intelligent Catholic well-formed in the sources of Catholicism, grounded in all the centuries of the solemn teaching of the Church, then you need to reject hyperpapalism, and you need to recover a more sane and more healthy view of it.

Eric Sammons:

If we have our two extremes on views of the papacy, is a hyperpapalism on the one side, and let’s just say Eastern orthodoxy, I know it’s not Catholic, but use that as the other extreme, where essentially, yeah, there is a bishop of Rome, he does have a certain primacy, let’s just kind of give him a little bit of a title and stuff, and look to him on some level. That’s the other extreme.

So where does the Catholic view fit into that in light of what Vatican I teaches? Because that’s one of the issues a lot of people said when JP II and Benedict talked about recovering the first millennium, which I’m very attracted to view of the papacy. But you got Vatican I, staring you at the face in the face saying, “Ehh.”

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Sure.

Eric Sammons:

So where is that proper view-

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Yes.

Eric Sammons:

… in the middle there?

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

I wrote an article at OnePeterFive, maybe a month or two ago, called Vatican I as a political problem. And I recommend that to readers or to viewers, because in that article, I talk at one point about how Vatican I actually contains crucial teaching for limiting the papacy. People see it as a council that presented an unlimited view papal authority. It did no such thing.

First of all, in Pastor Aeternus it laid down very clear and definite lines within which the Pope exercises the infallibility of the Church. But secondly, and more importantly, Dei Filius, the dogmatic constitution of Vatican I, Dei Filius says that the teaching of the Church on faith and morals can never be changed on the pretext of new understandings. Basically, the Hegelian, Darwinian understanding of development of doctrine, which is all the rage now in Rome. And that’s how they want to get an opening to birth control somehow as a kind of development from Humanae Vitae. However, they’re going to do that. Vatican 1 cuts that off. Absolutely, completely cuts that off.

So Vatican I, Dei Filius, is actually saying, whatever the Pope does, it has to be within the continuity of the transmission of the apostolic positive faith. And that is something that we can… How can we tell that? Well, because, guess what, we have other sources of teaching besides the Pope. We even have other sources of teaching besides councils.

I mean, amazingly enough, we have what’s called the Universal Ordinary Magisterium of the Church that is infallible. The Church herself teaches that the Universal Ordinary Magisterium is infallible. Well, what is that? Where do we see it? We see it, for example, in the witness of countless catechisms published over hundreds of years over, over the last 1,000 years. You know about this project, Tradivox, right? Yeah.

Eric Sammons:

It’s right behind me.

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Yes, exactly, Tradivox. I’ve got it on my shelf too. It’s an incredible project. What are they doing? Well, they are publishing catechisms that written over a period of a 1,000 years that all teach the same thing. That is the witness to the Ordinary Universal Magisterium of the Church. That is what the Church has always held and taught through all of her bishops. And so once we recognize that there are other sources of knowledge, then we don’t deny that the Pope is the Pope. We don’t ignore him completely. We don’t deny his office and his jurisdiction, but we see him as one part of a larger whole. As a preeminent, but still part of the body of Christ to which all of us belong. And which all of us have been given the faith in our baptism and we’re soldiers of that faith by our confirmation. So this is something that concerns all of us. It belongs to all of us.

Eric Sammons:

Essentially the office of the papacy is a divine office. It is instituted by Christ for the Bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter. As such, he is the head, the visible head of the Church here on Earth. But as an average Catholic then we should look at him… I guess, I want to kind of finish tonight today by asking, okay, the average Catholic, how should he or she look at the Pope, not necessarily Pope Francis mean, or whoever the next Pope is, and look at what he says and does? And how should that influence their Catholic life?

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Some people have objected that if the only purpose of the Pope is to restate what the Church has already taught, then he would be superfluous. We would have no need for the Pope. But that’s evidently false. What the Popes have done for the whole history of the Church is repeated the past traditional teaching of the Church at times when it was being denied or being undermined or being diluted or compromised in some way. The Pope is a remora, as John Henry Newman says. He’s a barrier to novelty, a barrier to innovation, a barrier to progress in that sense.

And so really it isn’t superfluous for the Pope to repeat what the Church already teaches. For him to do so even solemnly, if necessary, as when the assumption of the immaculate conception was defined by the Popes. So in a way it may sound paradoxical to say this, but unless the Pope is going to… The Pope is there to confirm the brethren in the faith, as it says in the gospel.

And if it becomes clear to a well-informed Catholic, that something else is happening, something’s going wrong. He actually needs to keep a certain distance from that wayward Pope, just as has happened in some other parts of church history. You can see that in Roberto De Mattei’s book, Love For the Papacy and Filial Resistance to the Pope. He needs to keep a certain distance, and hold fast to the faith that was delivered once for all to the saints.

I mean, that is after all what the papacy is for. It’s meant as a bulwark against heretical innovations. I guess it cashes out practically as Jane and Joe Catholic should adhere to the faith as it’s always been taught, as they get it in a valid catechism, as you can find it in the catechism of Trent or the Baltimore catechism or any of these other traditional catechisms. They should hold fast to their rosary, to their Tridentine mass, to all of the great monuments of tradition that we know to be blessed by divine providence, and to be free from error and absolutely reliable. And if we can’t solve certain problems, we shouldn’t think that that means we don’t know what to do.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. Well, I’m going to wrap it up there. First of all, I’ll put a link in the show notes here to this book. It’s actually a two volume works, so I say book, but it’s really books. So The Road from Hyperpapalism to Catholicism: Rethinking the Papacy in a Time of Ecclesial Disintegration, and the first volume, the subtitle is Theological Reflections on the Rock of the Church. So this is more of a general theological, kind of what we were talking about today a lot, the general sense of how are we supposed to look at the papacy? So volume one, you can read either of these by, or both, I say get both, but they standalone as well.

And then the second volume is Chronological Responses to an Unfolding Pontificate, and this is more specifically Pope Francis, things he said, and how we look at those in light of the theological reflections found in the first volume.

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Exactly.

Eric Sammons:

So I would recommend people to pick this up. Again, it’s Arouca…

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Arouca Press.

Eric Sammons:

Arouca Press, thank you. Sorry about that people who worked there. But, yeah, so I recommend getting it. Like I said, I’ll put that in the show notes. I’ll probably also put link to my own podcast from last year about rethinking the papacy, because we covered some of this. But I hope this was helpful for people, because I think you think this too, Peter, but I do understand why this is a very confusing time for Catholics. Why good, faithful Catholics struggle with the idea of in any way minimizing or diminishing or like you saying, keeping a distance from the Pope, that just doesn’t seem to naturally sit with a lot of Catholics-

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Yes.

Eric Sammons:

… and I get that. And that’s why we have to talk these things through.

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Yeah, exactly. And in fact, the magnitude of the crisis is seen by the very fact that we have to have such conversations.

Eric Sammons:

I think neither of us, I think both of us, I should say, we’d both rather be studying some theological point from long ago or something. We don’t really want to be talking about rethinking to papacy.

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Right. Of course, I kind of see it as when a building is burning down everybody becomes a fireman, to the extent that they can. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

Eric Sammons:

That’s right. I got a little tiny bucket, but I’ll do what I can. Well, thanks for coming on Peter. I really do appreciate it.

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski:

Thank you, Eric.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. Until next time everybody, God love you.

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