One well-known Catholic blogger recently made a short post under the heading, “Pithy,” making his own a statement of one of his readers that, ““Progressives hate the idea that Peter and the Apostles can bind. Traditionalists cannot fathom that Peter and the Apostles can loosen.” It is worthwhile to take a moment to unpack that statement, and to look at the “climate change” occurring in the larger Catholic world since Pope Francis ascended to the Papal Throne on March 13.
First, the statement: No doubt, the author of that post will think it silly to really delve into the exactness (or lack thereof) of his short blog post, since it was merely meant to express a point. Still, given the thrust of the argument, and more especially, its implications, breaking down the sentence and really chewing on it should give us greater insight into where things stand, and understand whether the point expressed is true or simply an attempt to attack, lacking substance.
Using a simple online dictionary, we see that pithy means, “concise and forcefully expressive.” I think we can generally agree that the statement above fits the simple definition, but the next and far more important question is this: Is it true?
Let us listen to the words of Our Lord addressed to St. Peter in Matthew 16:19: “And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.” (We are aware that Christ gives a similar, though not universal authority to the Apostles in general in Matthew 18:18, but since the power of the Keys comes primarily through Peter to whom is given universal jurisdiction, our study will suffice to look at Matthew 16.)
In his Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew, St. Thomas Aquinas makes clear that the power of binding and loosing relates directly to the Keys promised to St. Peter by Our Lord – a clear indication of Peter’s authority and jurisdiction. So, we’re discussing here a jurisdictional power of Peter as Christ’s Vicar and head of the Universal Church. Later, this same power will be given to the other Apostles, but not in a universal way (as St. Thomas explains). So, what does it mean to bind and loose?
In that same Commentary, St. Thomas explains that this power of loosing refers to opening the gate of Heaven through the sacraments, through indulgences, and through the lifting of just censures such as excommunications. The power of binding, on the other hand, refers to “not administering the sacrament,” or excommunication.
Basically, Our Lord is giving Peter the power to bind and loose souls on Earth, and declaring that when done, Heaven will ratify it, and in a certain sense, be bound by it (obviously we don’t mean this regarding unjust application of the law, or a non-discriminatory approach to the sacraments).
The concept is fairly basic (though incredibly profound and there is much to examine in it). The question, then is, how is it that Traditionalists deny this?
No one would argue that we deny the Pope’s authority to bind and loose in the example and means given above and in a strict sense. It can only mean something else, something more colloquial.
It seems the claim must be that we’re denying the principle of mercy, or the practical application of mercy by the Sovereign Pontiffs or bishops over the past 40+ years. The questions must be asked if mercy and truth can ever be separated. We know from Sacred Scripture that, “Mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed.” Referring to Christ, the Psalmist makes clear that at His Coming, Mercy and Truth, Righteousness and Peace will be inseparably united. As such, mercy and truth may never be in opposition. So, while not PC, we must ask the following questions:
– Is it merciful to give the impression that the Vicar of Christ is on the same level as his bishops a la collegiality?
– Is it merciful to give the impression that the Vicar of Christ is not, in a real sense (while still respecting the state’s right to act in its own sphere) over governments, and that governments have a duty to hear his voice and put into practice those things he commands for the salvation of souls a la religious liberty?
– Is it merciful to give the impression that the Vicar of Christ is just another religious leader or that the Church whose visible head he is, is simply one path to God among others a la ecumenism?
No, it is obvious that these things are not works of mercy, but rather works of iniquity whose adoption stands in stark contradiction to the unique salvific claim of the Church always heedful of her Master’s admonition, “Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”
If it’s not a question of mercy, then we must assume that the author means we are denying the right of the Pope to make serious changes to the liturgy, or to doctrine, or to the practical application of these. Regarding the liturgy, our position (and that of many non-traditional Catholics as well) is that the Pope has the “legal” authority to make changes to the liturgy, even drastic ones, but he does not have the “moral” authority do so, since, both East and West until the 1960s denied, as a principle, the right of Popes to make drastic changes to their respective liturgies. So, yes, we stand with Catholics through the ages who see significant liturgical changes, especially those that occur inorganically, as standing in opposition to the praxis and mind of the Church.
If it’s a question of doctrine, then we stand with the Church who makes her own the famous dictum of St. Vincent of Lerins that we believe that which has been believed, Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus, that is always, everywhere, and by everyone. If we take this as our model, not to mention the numerous clear statements by the Sovereign Pontiffs through the ages, we will look in vain to see historical theological justifications of collegiality, religious liberty, ecumenism, etc. Instead we will find their very clear condemnation. It is clear that in this as well, we cannot be held guilty of opposing the power of Peter.
Finally, could it be that the accusation refers to a “loosing” regarding the practical application of the Church’s liturgical thought or of her doctrine? Here too, we are innocent. We do not deny, nor have we ever denied that the Popes have a right and duty to instill practical measures that will best draw a given age to the Church and to obedience to the entire body of her teachings. What we deny is that this practical approach can ever be legitimate if the practices in question militate against the perennial teachings of the Church. Thus, it is absurd to pretend that interreligious gatherings, condemned by the Sovereign Pontiffs of old are in any way not in direct opposition to the unique salvific claim of the Catholic Church, or that these gatherings do not mitigate against the Church’s role and teaching. In such cases, we oppose, not because we oppose Peter’s lawful right to bind and loose, but because such practices have nothing to do with that lawful right.
On the other hand, when it comes to questions like the practical application of the Church’s teaching concerning the duty of states to confess the True Religion, traditional Catholics have always maintained that the state might need to practice religious toleration (entirely different from religious liberty) in those places where a Catholic confessional state that prohibits the exercise of false religions would do more harm to the common good. So we see that there is no problem for the traditional Catholic with allowing for any lawful practice that maintains the integrity of the Church’s teaching, and only opposition where those practices work against the Church’s doctrine.
So, no, our fellow Catholic blogger; we do not oppose the power of the Keys. We long to see them used regularly and in accordance with the teaching of the First Vatican Council, “For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.”
The very brief statements above are enough to show the falsehood of the “pithy” statement given. But more importantly, what of their implications? Are traditional Catholics and those sympathetic to them now experiencing a certain climate change in the larger Catholic world?
To ask the question is to answer it. Only a few short months ago, some thaw existed in the conservative (a misnomer if ever there was one) Catholic mind, and in conservative Catholic journals, blogs, etc. that allowed a more open discussion to exist on the nature of Vatican II, on collegiality, religious liberty, ecumenism, and most especially on the liturgy. Why, then, does this door seem closed now with the reign of Pope Francis?
It is not we who closed it, and to be fair to the Sovereign Pontiff, he has not yet closed this discussion either by his words or actions. No, the end of the discussion comes from those so-called conservatives – the best of all weathermen since they can always tell which way the wind is blowing – anxious to ingratiate themselves to what they perceive to be a shift in papal policy. When Benedict promoted a certain reform of Catholic liturgy and introduced an increased gravitas to papal liturgies, they rode to the defense of those actions as if they’d always led the army. Now that they perceive Francis taking a different road, one which seems to tread the path of liturgical minimalism, they turn their chargers and march to another battle, confident of victory so long as they always follow the seemingly prevailing forces.
What else is this but liturgical and doctrinal positivism, in the end, amounting to a certain papolatry. And to cover up the ever-shifting sands of their principles, men, such as our blogger, feel it necessary to attack and ridicule traditional Catholics, who do not, for one instance, deny the power of Peter to bind and to loose, but rather beg Peter to use his authority to confirm his brethren in the Faith, and to truly be a universal father.
O Lord, how long until Thou end this diabolical disorientation?
V. Oremus pro Pontifice nostro Francisco.
R. Dominus conservet eum, et vivificet eum, et beatum faciat eum in terra, et non tradat eum in animam inimicorum eius.
Deus, omnium fidelium pastor et rector, famulum tuum Franciscum, quem pastorem Ecclesiae tuae praeesse voluisti, propitius respice: da ei, quaesumus, verbo et exemplo, quibus praeest, proficere: ut ad vitam, una cum grege sibi credito, perveniat sempiternam. Per Christum, Dominum nostrum. Amen.
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