Monday, November 4, 2019

The strange case of Pope Vigilius

The increasingly strange pontificate of Pope Francis is leading many Catholics into increasingly strange behavior.  Some, like the emperor’s sycophants in the Hans Christian Anderson story, insist with ever greater shrillness that nothing Pope Francis does is ever really in the least bit problematic.  If your eyes seem plainly to be telling you otherwise, then it is, they insist, your lying eyes that are the problem.  Others, incapable of such self-deception, are driven into a panic by the pope’s manifestly problematic words and actions.  They overreact, either beating a retreat into sedevacantism or judging that the claims of Catholicism have been proven false and that the only recourse is Eastern Orthodoxy.

This is all quite ridiculous, and evinces an ignorance of the theology and history of the papacy.  Both sides falsely assume that Catholic teaching rules out a pope’s being guilty of the errors the pope is accused of.  Hence the one side concludes that he must not really be guilty of them (all the evidence notwithstanding), and the other side concludes that either he must not really be a pope or that Catholicism must not be true.

In fact, popes are in principle capable of a fairly wide range of errors of governance and even of teaching, when not speaking in a manner that meets the strict criteria for an ex cathedra declaration.  And in practice some popes have been guilty of very grave errors – witness the condemnation of Pope Honorius I by his successors for his failure to uphold orthodoxy, the notorious and bizarre Cadaver Synod of Pope Stephen VI, the sacrilege and Caligula-like lifestyle of Pope John XII, the doctrinal error for which Pope John XXII was criticized by the theologians of his day, and so on.  All of this is consistent with the doctrine of papal infallibility, because the fathers of Vatican I who defined the doctrine formulated the conditions under which a pope speaks infallibly very precisely, and in a way that took account of this history. 

I have discussed the examples just cited on earlier occasions.  (See the posts linked to at the end of this one.)  Another instructive example, one perhaps especially relevant today, is that of Pope Vigilius (who was pope from 537-555).

The circumstances under which Vigilius became pope were scandalous.  His predecessor Boniface II had wanted Vigilius, a Roman deacon, to succeed him as pope, but the Roman clergy resisted this and Boniface withdrew the nomination.  Vigilius later became instead a nuncio to Constantinople, where he also became a confidant of the eastern Roman empress Theodora, the wife of Justinian.  Now, Theodora was a monophysite, and keen to reverse the fortunes of this heresy.  She made a secret pact with Vigilius, the terms of which were that in exchange for her getting him installed as pope, he would repudiate the Council of Chalcedon and reinstate a bishop who had been dismissed because of his adherence to the monophysite heresy.  Vigilius agreed.  The trouble was that a new pope, Silverius, had already been elected.  So Justinian’s general Belisarius pressured Silverius to resign, and when that failed, had Silverius deposed on trumped up charges.  He then forced through a new election, by which Vigilius was made pope.  Naturally, some questioned the legitimacy of this procedure.  Hence, so as to ensure that Silverius would not be restored to the papal throne, Vigilius had his predecessor exiled.  While in exile, Silverius suffered great hardships, seems to have abdicated under pressure, and soon died.  Vigilius’s legitimacy was at this point recognized by all the Roman clergy.

Vigilius’s pontificate was doctrinally problematic as well.  As pope, he would end up pleasing neither the monophysite heretics nor the orthodox, though he tried to appease both.  Privately he appears at first to have assured the monophysites that he sympathized with them, while also emphasizing that stealth was necessary in order to advance the monophysite cause.  However, he did not keep his end of the bargain with Theodora.  Moreover, he also later assured Justinian, who had turned against the monophysites, that he too was against them and would uphold Chalcedon. 

Now, the sequel was the notorious incident of the “Three Chapters.”  Justinian decided that to reconcile the monophysite heretics to orthodoxy, it would be a good idea to condemn the persons and works of Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrus, and Ibas of Edessa.  Chalcedon had not challenged the orthodoxy of these theologians, and they had died in good standing with the Church.  But they were disliked by the monophysites, who suspected them of Nestorianism, an opposite extreme heresy from that of monophysitism.  The condemnation was seen as a way to placate the monophysites and to facilitate their reunion.  Justinian demanded that the bishops endorse this trio of condemnations (or “Three Chapters”), and many did so even if reluctantly.

The theological issues here were complex, but the basic problem was this.  On the one hand, some of the views of the three theologians in question were indeed problematic.  On the other hand, since the Council of Chalcedon had not questioned the orthodoxy of these men, condemning them was seen by many as unjust and even as an attack on Chalcedon.  Hence, signing on to Justinian’s condemnation was regarded by many to amount to a sell-out to the monophysite heretics.

Vigilius initially refused to sign on, but eventually, under pressure from Justinian, he agreed to do so.  For this he was denounced by many bishops for having betrayed Chalcedon, and a synod in Carthage even declared him excommunicated.  This led to Vigilius withdrawing his condemnation, though also to his calling for a council to settle the matter.  But after a long and complicated period of conflict with Justinian over the issue, Vigilius once again agreed, under pressure, to the Three Chapters condemnation.  Unsurprisingly, he was not popular when he died, and consequently was not buried in St. Peter’s.

What should we think of the legitimacy of Vigilius’s election, and of his orthodoxy?  It is widely agreed that the theological issues surrounding the Three Chapters are complicated, and that Vigilius’s understanding of them was impaired by his inability to read Greek (the language in which the relevant controversial documents were written).  His statements on the matter were also hedged with qualifications.  Moreover, Vigilius was under duress during much of the long controversy.  Certainly, then, if he erred in his public statements or actions, he did not do so in a way that conflicts with what the Church teaches about papal infallibility.  The conditions under which a pope might make an infallible ex cathedra pronouncement simply did not obtain.

But what about Vigilius’s personal orthodoxy?  In Book IV, Chapter 10 of his treatise On the Roman Pontiff, St. Robert Bellarmine considers, but rejects as unproved, the thesis proposed by some that a letter in which Vigilius had assured the monophysite heretics of his sympathy with them was a forgery.  He allows that Vigilius really did speak contrary to orthodoxy.  But he says that since the letter in question was written while Silverius was still alive, Vigilius was at the time not yet a true pope but an anti-pope!  After Silverius’s death, Bellarmine argues, Vigilius was a true pope – but also after that point never again expressed sympathy with monophysitism, and instead refused to keep his bargain with Theodora.

What we have, then, is a pope whom heterodox parties favored and schemed to get elected; who was made pope while his predecessor, who had been under pressure to resign, was still alive; whose legitimacy as pope was questioned by some as a result; and who was known for speaking out of both sides of his mouth and for ambiguous theological positions.  Sound familiar?

It should, because these features are claimed by many to fit Francis’s pontificate.  The pope’s doctrinally problematic statements (on Holy Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, capital punishment, etc.) are well known and have been discussed here in other posts.  Some have alleged, on grounds not all of which are entirely frivolous (though in my view still mistakenly), that the validity of Pope Francis’s election is doubtful.  Several arguments are given for this claim, one having to do with the allegation that Benedict XVI resigned under pressure, and thus invalidly.  Another has to do with alleged irregularities in the conclave, involving a purported agreement between liberal cardinals of the “St. Gallen Group” to do what they could to get Cardinal Bergoglio elected.  I don’t myself find these theories convincing, for reasons of the sort explained by canon lawyer Ed Peters. 

The most interesting of the theories concerns the claim that Benedict never fully renounced the papacy, but renounced only the “active” papal ministry (leaving that to Francis) while retaining a “contemplative” papal ministry.  The reason this is interesting is that the theory is grounded in some eyebrow-raising remarks from none other than Benedict’s close associate Archbishop Georg Gänswein – who proposed that Benedict has introduced just such an “expanded” Petrine ministry, and who was presumably speaking with the knowledge and approval of the former pope himself.  The notion of an “expanded” Petrine ministry certainly seems theologically problematic; there cannot be two popes at once.  But as an argument for the invalidity of Benedict’s resignation, this theory still faces a serious problem of its own – namely that Gänswein, once again surely speaking with the knowledge and approval of Benedict, has also insisted that Benedict did indeed resign, that there is only one pope, and that that pope is Francis.

The point is this.  Not only do the odd and unsavory aspects of recent papal history not entail either that Francis is not pope or that Catholicism is false, but as the example of Pope Vigilius shows, they are not unprecedented either.  This sort of thing sometimes happens.  It does not happen often, and when it does it is horrible and damaging to souls and to the Church.  But it does happen.

Why does Christ tolerate this?  Why the brinksmanship?  Why doesn’t he wake up already and calm the storm? 

In part, I would argue, precisely to prove that the Church is indestructible.  Even bad popes cannot destroy it, as history shows.  Catholics are well advised to learn more about this history, so as to get a more balanced and sober perspective on current events.  They might start with books like E. R. Chamberlin’s The Bad Popes, or Rod Bennett’s recent Bad Shepherds.  As St. John Henry Newman famously said, to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.  It is also to cease to be a naïve and worried Catholic.  Keep calm and do not abandon your Holy Mother Church in her hour of need.

Further reading:


  1. Dr. Feser,

    I do not want to give credence to a falsificationist epistemology, but how would you comment on St. Robert Bellarmine’s views (On The Roman Pontiff) that a pope who is publicly and manifestly heretical (formally) ceases to be pope? Doesn’t this seem to make Vatican 1 unfalsifiable? Obviously any ex cathedra statement would be public.

    I kind of waiver between Cajetan’s position and Bellarmine’s. They both make good arguments, and there are serious consequences for each. I know you are extremely busy, but I think a post on this (or maybe just some links) would be helpful for people.

    Keep on keepin’ the faith!

    1. I also would like to hear this topic addressed.

      In particular, I'd like to see someone address the question of who can authoritatively judge that a statement given by the pope is manifestly heretical?

      Note: I'm not saying "who can authoritatively judge that the pope is a manifest heretic," because no one on earth can do that. I'm not talking about judging the pope, but about judging a teaching he has uttered.

      Scott, you say you waver between Cajetan and Bellarmine; but allow me to offer you a waiver on that question:

      I think we needn't do complex exegesis of either man, because the whole matter will ultimately boil down to one question: What would be the consequences of the pope's being judged to have "fallen from the seat of Peter" by anyone other than an undeniable successor pope? (Where "undeniable" probably means: Someone made pope after the death of the guy who putatively "fell from the chair." It probably can't mean someone who is elected while the former pope is still alive and still claiming the papacy.)

      So far as I can see, you just can't have an "imperfect council" or any such mechanism result in the current pope ceasing to be the pope, because it destroys the Catholic Epistemology of the Faith. The point of the pontiff's charism of infallibility is to preserve not only the faith of the Church, but the objective knowability of the faith of the Church.

      Consider: In the various separated Eastern/Oriental churches, there is circularity of doctrine: You can know whether Chalcedon is true or not according to whether the "true church" says that it is...and you can only locate the true church by finding whichever church teaches the true doctrines (including the truth about Chalcedon). As a result each believer in these communions walks around feeling confident that he has the true doctrine, but in fact he has no principled basis for that confidence. His epistemology of the faith is illogical: And the Divine Logos is not illogical.

      But (as far as I can see) the same thing will happen if you propose that the pope, while still living, has involuntarily lost the chair of Peter and that the cardinals are thus free to elect a successor, and that the reason for this is a public manifest heresy.

      After all, in the event of a divided Church with two putative claimants to the papacy, we (whether we're laity, or cardinals) cannot merely rely on our judgment of the heterodoxy of some position the first pope held, and use this to find out if he ceased being pope. Trying to locate the true church through identifying orthodoxy or heterodoxy is the error of the Eastern separated churches, and results in the circular logic I described before. In such a divided church, there would no longer be any principled way for a Christian to know which is the true church.

      Prior confusions about "who's the real pope" aren't good parallels because it wasn't a matter of Pope X Being A Heretic (a matter of judging orthodoxy), but rather Was Pope X Properly Made Pope When The Seat Was Really Vacant? The former involves Truth On A Matter Of Faith Or Morals. The latter is about canon law, about procedures followed (or not followed). Competent canonists can judge the latter topic using objective data in the external forum. Topics in the former category are supposed to be judged by the Magisterium of bishops in union with the pope, which is precisely why the identity of the true pope can't be allowed to hang on it.

      Or so it seems to me.

      But I'd love for someone to show me why this is wrong. I don't mind being wrong; I just don't want to be left in the dark about it.

    2. I will admit I am new to the nuances of this debate. It seems like an alternate position to Cajetan would be one in which the Pope willingly abdicates his seat on account of renouncing the faith. That would lead to a legitimate sedevacantism. I believe it would be possible for an imperfect trial to be performed in which the cardinals listed the heresies espoused by the Pope. But ultimately it would be up to the Pope (and God) to accept the charges or renounce the heresies. The cardinals could not defrock the Pope, but they could pressure him to resign on account of his manifest heresy. It is hard to say. I wonder if Ed Peters has written in this.

    3. I see no essential problem with a council of bishops declaring that a pope has taught heresy, and merely note that this means that the pope has fallen from the office. And then, be obliged to wait for him to die until they elect another.

      And yes, I acknowledge that such council would not be an authoritative Ecumenical Council. So? If a virtually universal set of the bishops gather anyway, (without the pope's calling them), (or even declare so while dispersed throughout the world) and determine that X statement by the pope is heretical, then even though their decision is not backed by the pope, they are still a virtually unanimous gathering of the bishops.

      As far as I understand it, Bellarmine's position is that by doing so the Church would make manifest that the pope had - by his own action - lost his office. The bishops would not be the cause of his losing his office, but only of making it manifest. It is God's own authority and power that actually is the efficient cause, with the pope's being the deficient cause.

      By acknowledging that the seat of Peter is empty, the Church would be in the same position as when a pope dies and no successor has been elected. It's not like the Church cannot function even when there is no pope. So, it just lasts longer than usual, until the former pope dies.

      Well, I suppose that it still casts difficulties about all the "pope's" acts while he is still alive (such as appointing new bishops and cardinals, not to mention any other teachings he gives). How do we "unwind" all such acts (and their downstream effects) as being non-valid?

    4. Tony,

      Thanks for the reply.

      You say, "I see no essential problem with a council of bishops declaring that a pope has taught heresy...and then, be obliged to wait for him to die until they elect another." Well, yes, that was my first instinct, too. But I wonder: Is it sufficient?

      Let's say Pope A says near-heretical things and an imperfect council says he's fallen from the chair. If they're right, then we have empty office. (If they're wrong, we don't.) And as a precaution, they decide to wait for Pope A to die before electing Pope B.

      But in the meantime, a large minority of the bishops still support Pope A, and Pope A continues acting like a pope: He appoints new cardinals; he kicks bishops who've rejected him out of their bishoprics and installs ones who support him as their replacements. He canonizes saints, he issues encyclicals. Finally, fifteen years later, Pope A dies.

      Which college of cardinals will elect the new one? Which encyclicals are valid? Which new saints have really been raised to the altar?

      I don't see any way you can answer that question without first asking whether the pope was heretical or not. And to compound the problem, you need to also ask whether it's true, or heretical, to claim that popes teaching manifest heresy automatically fall from the chair. That's not settled dogma.

      So now you're in a historical period with two competing colleges of cardinals (eventually two pope-claimants, two sets of bishops, two churches). And the only way you can conclude which pope is the real pope (and thus which Church is the real Church, and thus which doctrines are the real doctrines) is by resolving the doctrinal question about whether a heretical pope falls from the throne, and then applying your result to Pope A.

      How will you arrive at a new dogmatic definition in a Church that either has no pope, or has no way to authenticate to the world that her pope is the real one? Will you gather an ecumenical council to declare the relevant dogmas, perhaps? Who will ratify it? Good luck!

      I'm not saying my objections are unanswerable. I profess great ignorance here. I'm raising these things in hope that someone can better-inform me.

      But it doesn't seem to me that declaring the bad pope no-longer-pope is workable. It looks as if it would actually be better for the church to just going admitting he's the pope (if a bad one) than to say that he's "fallen from the chair" and then watch as he spends another decade acting like he's occupying it.

    5. Anti-popes/competing claimants (and supporters) would not be a new phenomenon. A reading of the history of the Western schism would be perhaps illuminating.

    6. CRS:

      Sure, I'm aware that there were, in the past, anti-popes and competing claimants and supporters.

      But so far as I know, there has never been a situation relevant to the hypothetical I'm exploring. That'd be a situation in which...
      - one group claimed X was pope, and that group included X himself, who continued operating as pope;
      - another group claimed X was not pope;
      - the question of whether X was really the pope hinged on the heterodoxy or orthodoxy of an as-yet unsettled proposal, on some matter of faith or morals;
      - the settling of that proposal required the Church either to be able to judge the invisible (!) status of having-the-papacy to be present or absent, or else, failing that, to have recourse to some exercise of extraordinary Magisterial infallibility (but without benefit of having a pope!);
      ...and because those options are both impossible, the situation isn't resolvable.

      Nobody doubts, of course, that a bishop or layperson can form conclusions about whether the bishop of Rome has said something heretical: That's the external forum. But the question is whether his doing so causes him to lose the papacy. That's not externally-evident. A "still the pope" detection device doesn't exist.

      And, there's no widespread ordinary Magisterial teaching over centuries saying that the pope loses the papacy if he becomes a public manifest heretic. I don't see how a large swath of the world could suddenly become confident that "that's how it works," in a short period of time, without an exercise of extraordinary Magisterial teaching on the matter. But who would accept such a thing from a group of bishops with no pope, or a doubtful pope?

      Like Professor Feser, I think this is much ado about...not nothing, but very little.

      If Popes Vigilius and Honorius and John XXII didn't lose the papacy on account of their doings, it's not plausible that Pope Francis has lost it already. Nearly every objectionable statement he's made has been sufficiently vague to allow non-heretical interpretations, or can be excused as speaking off-the-cuff, or both. The worst of his doings have been disciplinary or administrative acts which imply heretical doctrine without asserting it. But unwise discipline or wicked administration don't make someone lose the papacy.

      The only reason I'd like this matter clarified is because Francis, or a successor selected by the cardinals Francis has created, are somewhat likely to assert unambiguously heretical things in the future (e.g., that a woman can be ordained to the diaconate).

      This is "borrowing trouble," in one sense. But I think prudence recommends that, if possible, we figure out what the consequences of such an event would be, sometime before it occurs.

  2. Henry the fifth simply kidnapped the Pope until he agreed with the position of Henry that the king has the right to appoint bishops over his areas.

  3. If Bellarmine’s cited argument works, then Vigilius is not a precedent for a true Pope being personally heretical. The personal orthodoxy of the Pope seems to me to be the point stressed by most sedevacantists.

  4. Communion for the divorced = possible sympathy for an officially condemned theological heresy that could have literally changed the direction of the church.

    Lol. You guys are over the moon. Total lack of perspective.

    Alternative explanation: Americans are far too amped up on heated political rhetoric and transfer these awful and utterly brash tendencies into theological debate.

    Also the notion that there are two positions: willful ignorance or sedevacantism, and that only Feser's fairly histrionic position is the 'reasonable middle ground' is deranged. There's plenty of people out there who probably think Francis overdoes it on few occasions but who think that (a) this is being amplified by an unfair American Catholic press trapped in its own echo chamber and (b) in the grand scheme of things, this is really pretty minor.

    1. The Impoverished LastsNovember 5, 2019 at 9:46 AM

      "and that only Feser's fairly histrionic position is the 'reasonable middle ground' is deranged."

      What a weird comment to make. You'd think it would be obvious that to the one making their position known (such as Feser) that he would find his position a 'reasonable middle ground'.

      You stated your objection in the view that your position is the reasonable one. But that's a point of derision for you when Feser does it?

      "(b) in the grand scheme of things, this is really pretty minor.".... again, simply your view. Which you think is reasonable. I think you're simply wrong because nothing about this is 'really pretty minor'.

      But from a guy who's entering the discussion with a "you guys are over the moon. TOTAL lack of perspective" leads me to think you have little more than mockery and willful misunderstanding to offer. Unless you can show otherwise??

    2. Theillustionist's post was noticeably lacking in specifics. Feser is accused of overreacting, but exactly how is not spelled out.

    3. Communion for the divorced = possible sympathy for an officially condemned theological heresy that could have literally changed the direction of the church.

      Well, yes. Giving communion to the divorced and remarried implies at least one, and possibly more, of the following heresies: (i) that it's possible for a validly-married couple to cease being married whilst both spouses are still alive; (ii) that some people are incapable of keeping the moral law; (iii) that it's licit to give Communion to those in a state of mortal sin.

      -- The original Mr. X

    4. I agree with Mr. X, the concern over AL is over its implications and some of the questionable things which apparently had to be said to get its result. I'd note though that it is licit to give Communion to those in a state of mortal sin. The priest may not know, for one thing. But even if he suspects, that is not grounds for withholding Communion. The person rather needs to be in a state of obstinate, manifest grave sin. (Cf. Ed Peters on this point.) That is why people who object to the denial of Communion to Joe Biden on the grounds that a priest ought not to judge souls are at least missing the point this far. It may be that Biden, say, repented of his support for abortion while in the Communion line. But he would still be in a publicly observable state of manifest grave sin until he recanted his support for abortion.

      It remains contrary to canon law for a priest to knowingly distribute the divorced and civilly remarried, because AL did not attempt to alter canon law. As unwise as I think it would be, since our eucharistic discipline is as it is for very good reasons, it is not clear (I would say it is positively doubtful--but these questions are above my pay grade) that a pope would have to be a heretic to abrogate Canon 915.

  5. The Impoverished LastsNovember 5, 2019 at 9:49 AM

    It's funny though... interesting discussion going on. Some points of disagreement being considered then you get TheIllusionist "Oh you fools! American echo chamber. Nothing to see here!"

    Someone a bit more emotionally invested in the game... being emotionally invested isn't a bad thing - but when it short circuits your ability to think reasonably.. well then that's probably a bad thing.

  6. I'm intrigued by Dr. Feser's engagement with Archbishop Ganswein's speculation about "an expanded Petrine ministry". The implication seems to be that either the Petrine charism can be "diluted" between two men or that infallibility might be somehow separated from the public powers of the office due to a living pope - whether an ex-pope or not. Could this be true? I'm not sure myself - it would seem to have profound theological implications concerning the nature of the Petrine charism.

  7. I'm inclined to think Gänswein's comments about the Petrine ministry have generally been understood; I think it is essential to what he was saying that he was speaking specifically of the ministry, not the office -- 'Pope Emeritus' doesn't exist as part of the papal office but indicates a participation in the papal ministry. Benedict XVI had specifically and explicitly said after he announced his intention to abdicate that the Petrine ministry is forever -- his idea was that once you're Pope, participating in the ministry of Peter is your life, and you can't return to private life; you may leave the office, but you are still bound to service, in his case to participating in the work of the Pope by supporting him with prayer.

    And while that exact idea is new (because 'Pope Emeritus' as an actual office is new), it's not like having a role by participation in the ministry that another has by office is a new thing. That's what auxiliary bishops do in a different form, for instance, since there can't be two bishops of a diocese, strictly speaking.

    1. Obviously that should have been 'misunderstood' rather than understood.

  8. Francis is just an inevitable fruit of what happened in the 'sixties. It will keep getting worse until it's fixed, because the cause remains in place, and the cause is heterodoxy.

    So, you can look forward to Francis II, somehow even less Christian than Francis. I know, I know, it boggles the mind, but who thought that JP2 would trump Paul VI's crimes by running the Assisi debacle in '86? Yet he did.

    Now, when seeking historical precedents, I'd like the defenders of heretics to find a precedent for this: The Church writes a new, man-centred, synthetic, liturgy, then imposes it across the entire Latin Rite, wiping out the old mass everywhere except one diocese, Campos, where the bishop simply declines to cooperate in the schism.

    The physical effects of this act, the imposition by violence of the new mass, were staggering. It was the most complete schism in history. Compared with it the Greek schism was a legalistic nothing burger. The average Greek could think - no doubt he did think - that the bishops were having a bit of a tussle and it didn't involve him. Nobody who was attached the actual liturgy, the actual divine worship, of the Catholic Church in 1970 could think that! He had to leave his parish church, and find a "naughty" priest who was offering the old mass, usually against the will of his bishop, instead. The faithful were thereby driven from their own buildings, and scattered.

    Find me a precedent for that. There isn't one.

  9. All of this is consistent with the doctrine of papal infallibility, because the fathers of Vatican I who defined the doctrine formulated the conditions under which a pope speaks infallibly very precisely, and in a way that took account of this history.

    I just want to make a clarifying comment about this: the Fathers of Vatican I very carefully described the conditions under which the pope speaks ex cathedra, but they most definitely did not set forth a specific formula that a pope must use to speak ex cathedra. Quite the reverse, actually: they wanted to carefully avoid the appearance that in order to declare a teaching ex cathedra, the pope had to speak in some special formula. The main reason is that if they had set forth a specific formula that MUST be used, they would cut out all earlier popess' authoritative pronouncements, because no earlier pope had EVER spoken according to any special formula, and they did not want to be in a position to be claiming that no pope had ever used the authority of the Petrine office that way. And, while essentially ALL authorities agree that there have been (at a minimum) 2 cases where a pope has declared a teaching ex cathedra, in neither case did they use or follow the exact phrasing by which Vatican I described the conditions for an ex cathedra teaching. So the Fathers of V-I were setting forth a description, and not a prescription.

    I go into far more detail in this posting, for those who want to compare the V-I teaching and the actual exercises of the ex cathedra authority:

    1. And I invite commentary on my argument there.

  10. It seems to me that "this time it is different" for a couple of reasons. The first is that the old heretics may have questioned this or that doctrine, but they did not challenge the notion of transcendence altogether. They were not secularists as Francis may be, nor were they relativists or Modernists - the "mother of all heresies". This is what seems to be in play a here. A monophysite may have been mistaken about the nature of Christ, but at least he thought it was something about which it is possible to be mistaken and about it which there is some objective truth. The relativism of Francis (why not put pagan idols in a Catholic Church?) seems altogether more insidious and dangerous.

    The second is the speed of modern communications. It's understandable that in the sixth century a pope or bishop might go a long time espousing a heretical doctrine without the universal Church even knowing about it or, when it did find out, being able to do much about it. But today, the universal Church knows virtually instantaneously the state of belief of the rest of the Church and certainly of the Pope. Yet despite Francis's increasingly questionable acts and pronouncements, the response from the universal Church is tepid at best. There was the dubia submitted several years ago by four cardinals, which Francis ignored and was forgotten about. I guess the cardinals think they did their job. Francis participating in pagan ceremonies in the Vatican and even putting pagan idols in a Church should have generated an instant rebuke from his fellow bishops; instead, it was largely crickets.

    It seems more ominous this time.

    1. When exactly did Francis participate in a pagan ceremony?

    2. JoeD: During the Amazon synod.

      In the Vatican gardens, Pachamama idols were carted in as a procession, placed on blankets, and surrounded by objects of devotion. Then a combination of indigenous Amazonian persons and Catholic clergy and religious bowed down to them and performed various rites.

      Pope Francis was present during those rites, observing but not participating. Yet he received from the shaman/priestess the gift of a black ring which apparently has some significance, which he wore. And of course he gave permission to have this rite conducted, in the Vatican, and did not act to interrupt it or condemn it.

      Furthermore, he gave permission to have various items associated with the cult of the Pachamama idols placed in Catholic churches in the Vatican and in Rome:
      - the Pachamama idols themselves;
      - the red bowls of vegetation which are a form of offering to the Pachamamas,
      - banners depicting a naked-from-the-waist-up human woman nursing a four-footed animal at her breast (unclear whether it's a dog or a weasel or what), which apparently has some ideological significance, which we don't yet clearly know;

      In Catholic moral theology, the fact that the pope himself wasn't seen bowing to these idols is not exculpatory. As the person with authority to allow or prevent these idolatrous rites and desecrations, his failure to prevent them represents a grave proximate cooperation with evil.

    3. Did any of the Amazonians explicitly state that their intention was to treat the statues as actual gods, or to attribute to them Divine attributes?

      As for the Pope greenlighting the ceremony, there is the obvious possibility that those responsible for organising the event, if it was intentionally meant to be idolatry, didn't tell Francis of any idolatrous intent, but rather made it seem as if it were an inculturated Catholic ceremony.

    4. JoeD:

      I acknowledge the rightness of your charitable reading of events regarding Pope Francis himself. Allow me to correct my earlier words: I should allow for the possibility that he was unaware of what had been planned until it happened before his eyes, and then wanted to leave or object, but felt obligated to stay until the end and remain quiet out of a misguided sense of hospitality.

      It's getting exhausting always having to write all these excuses for Pope Francis in the interests of giving him the most-charitable possible reading. But, in view of the dignity of his office, okay, fine, I'll play along.

      Still, please watch the relevant YouTube videos of the folk bowing down before the idols. It is visibly, obviously, a religious rite being performed. And "Pachamama" is a known cult of a fertility/earth-goddess from that area. And "Pachamama" is exactly what those idols were called, by the pope and others. And one of the standard offerings is those red bowls of soil and vegetation. I mean, it's textboook.

      Search YouTube for any of Taylor Marshall's discussion of the Pachamamas that includes video clips of the pagan rituals being performed. Marshall himself is hardcore against them, so watch the video clips with his commentary turned down if you don't want your conclusions to be swayed by what he has to say.

      If you find yourself able to draw some other conclusion than that they were worshiping the Pachamamas, please come back here and tell me your reasoning. I'd genuinely rather think I was misunderstanding it all.

      But at present, I don't think I was.

    5. As for the Pope greenlighting the ceremony, there is the obvious possibility that those responsible for organising the event, if it was intentionally meant to be idolatry, didn't tell Francis of any idolatrous intent, but rather made it seem as if it were an inculturated Catholic ceremony.

      JoeD, I grant the possibility that the Pope didn't know anything about it beforehand, and didn't explicitly consent to any such goings-on.

      That doesn't let him off the hook.

      Look, I have been a Catholic all my life, and I saw as early as the 1960's some "goings-on" that should have been stopped by a priest who got caught unawares. It was worse and worse in the 70's and 80's. By this point, EVERY Catholic priest, and (especially every bishop and cardinal) ought to know better about this stuff, and NOT be caught unawares. He should (by now) know to appoint someone in charge who is sound and competent, who knows how to say no to the crazies. He should (by now) also have figured out how to stop a proceding, and say "no" - he has certainly had enough occasions that warrant it that he SHOULD have said to himself "now, next time I see something outrageous like this, I have to have a plan of here's what I'll do". By this point, a cardinal elected pope ought to have several men he can rely on to organize an event without a shred of the crazy stuff, and he ought to have discovered within himself, or built up, enough mettle, enough grit, to put a stop to nonsense even though it seems "unkind". Stopping idolatry is NOT UNKIND.

      An error of omission due to being caught by surprise is often a lesser kind of error - but not if it is your DUTY to have considered and then prepared what to do in that very circumstance, and avoided doing that. And if you are pope, such omissions can be a very big deal indeed.

      No, the pope doesn't get a pass on this because maybe he didn't know about it beforehand.

    6. JoeD:

      I realized (after posting) that my earlier instruction as to how to locate video of pagan idol worship in the Vatican garden was too vague.

      This video...
      ...shows the bowing-down part, and then in a separate camera-view shows what was being bowed-down to; namely, a Pachamama statue set in the center of a blanket surrounded by various trinkets (candles, smaller statues).

      Notice that there's a person in Franciscan garb amongst those bowing down.

      Two of the indigenous persons are wearing the indigenous equivalent of priestly headgear. One carries a sort of rattle, and the other a short staff probably serving a purpose similar to a crozier.

      Also shown: The sort of shallow-canoe affair with the Pachamama idol sitting in it. This was carried on shoulders and processed, so that the idol was carried in a fashion resembling a Marian or Eucharistic procession. Then the canoe-like platform was put down and the idol transferred to the center of the blanket to be (so far as I can see) adored.

      I would LOVE for someone to give me a good, believable argument why that is something other than pagan idol worship taking place in the Vatican garden.

      Anyone? Bueller?

    7. @R.C.

      Here's a good summary of arguments against the idea of pagan ido worship:

    8. @Tony,

      You're still missing a few other possible things which make it not-so-obvious that Francis is to blame:

      - Maybe the people he recruited were in on this, having a somewhat neutral track-record, and thus misled him.

      - Maybe they organized the ceremony so that it seems suffuciently innocent of itself, not alarming the Pope during it - only for Francis to maybe discover it was pagan later.

      - Maybe the Amazonian people lied to Francis and the organizers about their true intent as well, acting as Catholics but in reality being more syncretic and relativistic at heart

    9. JoeD: a few other possible things which make it not-so-obvious that Francis is to blame:

      Or maybe even the people involved are so UNpagan that it never even remotely occurred to them how the event might appear to, say, someone with a suspicious and uncharitable mindset. Realistically, of course, there are a whole lot of people involved in any such incident, with a whole range of thoughts and perceptions which are opaque to us.

      We humans in our fallen state are skilled at imagining our own lives to be much more complicated than they really are, with countless supposed opportunities to rationalise away our faults; while imagining the lives of people on the other side of the world whom we have never met to be vastly oversimplified, such that a few photos or unsubstantiated rumours can reveal to us the secrets of their hearts.


  12. Feser writes a well-intentioned article but it rings hollow. To compare Francis to the Monophysites heresies is "straining to do some explaining". The Church is in crisis and has ever since Vatican II. Two homosexual Popes presided over Vatican II, in 1986 JPII introduced pagan worship practices at Assisi, pedophile scandal in the 2000s and continuing. Conservative Catholics dropping numbers and Francis redistributing the Cardinals and Bishops to set up for a complete overhaul of the Catechism. It appears that Francis is the beginning of the end of Catholicism. The prophecy of Malachy is coming to pass.

    1. (to Anonymous @ 8:37 AM)

      Really? John XXIII and Paul VI were homosexuals? Proof, please? That's a wild and scandalous accusation. John XXIII was never accused of such a thing, and the accusations against Paul VI were made by a notorious homosex-advocate who was also an advocate for pedophilia. The second claim, about JPII, seems highly dubious as well. The Buddha statue was, by all accounts, placed by the Buddhists on their own initiative, in an innocently ignorant gesture, as they did not realise it was so sacreligious. Notice that the Pope did not order it, nor did any Church official, nor was it ever done again at any subsequent interfaith meeting. As for the claim about conservatives:

    2. "In 1994, Franco Bellegrandi, a former Vatican honour chamberlain and correspondent for the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, alleged that Paul VI had been blackmailed and had promoted other gay men to positions of power within the Vatican.[143] In 2006, the newspaper L'Espresso confirmed the blackmail story based on the private papers of police commander General Giorgio Manes. It reported that Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro had been asked to help.[141][144]--Source wiki

      Paul VI was outed by the gay French writer Roger Peyrefitte, in a 1976 interview he did in response to that pope’s anti-gay edicts. According to Peyrefitte, who knew his way around aristocratic circles in France and Italy, Paul VI led an active gay life while he was still Archbishop of Milan.

      --Pope XXII was a closet homosexual and a freemason. See link:

    3. Even Cardinal Newman was a repressed homosexual.

      It is no accident that the Church has so many homosexuals, pedophiles, and financial scandals. These things are all related. Studies show that nearly 50% of priests are homosexual.

    4. Cardinal Newman was not repressed, let alone "openly gay." I realize that was a troll-post, but everyone should minimally get their terminology right.

      Chaste living is an open combat; one knows one's adversary with conscious familiarity. Psychological repression, by contrast, occurs when a trauma is buried away from the conscious mind, emerging from the subconscious in an unrecognized form.

      It is normal for men in society to have intimate friendships without a component of perverted sexuality. That our own era is unable to recognize this, and ascribes perversions to historical friendships where none exist, or even pressures persons with close friendships to introduce sexual perversion into these friendships because of the assumption that intimacy only ever proceeds from sexual attraction, demonstrates only our modern dysfunction.

      Finally, "New Ways Ministry" is chock-full of heretics who, if they don't repent their sins, will certainly go to hell. One ought not be feeding one's mind from tainted sources, if one takes one's own eternal destiny at all seriously.

    5. Terence Weldon at Queering the Church explains how Newman’s teaching on conscience laid the groundwork for LGBT Christians today. “As a theologian, Cardinal Newman played an important role in developing the modern formulation of the primacy of conscience, which is of fundamental importance to LGBT Catholics who reject in good conscience the standard teaching on sexuality – or the high proportion of heterosexual couples who reject ‘Humanae Vitae,’” Weldon writes.

    6. Sure he does. Terence Weldon would happily explain how wet streets are the cause of rainfall.

      To ascribe such a "primacy of conscience" view to Newman leaves out the way in which Newman viewed conscience as being able to be mistaken. One is, as it were, stuck facing a moral quandary with the conscience one has when the quandary arises (just as one is stuck going to war with the army one has when the threat manifests). But the conscience is not assumed automatically to be sufficiently well-formed to arrive at correct answers for any quandary, any more than the army is assumed to be sufficiently staffed, trained, and equipped to be able to win any war.

      LGBT Catholics are, by-and-large, in a position of vincible ignorance and culpable misinformation, both about Newman and about human sexuality. It's perfectly understandable, of course, and every person can sympathize who was forced by correct moral reasoning to break up with a lover and start living chastely when every instinct screamed and moped and whined about it. God never promised that all the crosses we'd need to carry would be those our instincts made us happy to carry. I have some I don't feel like carrying...but I also know that if I don't pick the d*** things up and take some steps, I'm chickening out, setting my hand to the plough and then turning back.

      At any rate, Newman specifically singles out the following as the wrong, and most horrifying, misunderstanding of conscience: "...the right of thinking, speaking, writing and acting, according to their (the individual person) judgment or their humor, without any thought of God at all…Conscience has rights because it has duties; but in this age, with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of conscience to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations. It becomes a license to take up this or that and let it go again…Conscience is a stern monitor, but in this century it has been superseded by a counterfeit, which eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not be mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self-will."

      It is this counterfeit "conscience" which Newman rejects as mere "personal opinion, subjective feeling, and self-will." For Newman, there is a distinction between the perennial teaching of the Church and the mere opinion of some prelate or theologian (even the pope). The conscience, properly defined, is never in conflict with the former and if one encounters such a conflict, it must be written off as the false conscience, and the man's moral instincts must be retrained.

  13. Nice historical perspective and yes goodbye to naivete, but I'm unpersuaded by the purely ex cathedra definition of papal infallibility. If that were so there have been only two such statements in church history. Hmm, what then was the pope's definitive, binding role in the prior 18 centuries before such official utterances were made? Absent ex cathedra statements,which you define and say Vatican defined, as the sine qua non of infallibility, how did he exercise his supreme authority?
    But getting down to the present: if Francis accepts the counsels of the Amazonian synod and we end up with female deacons, and if Francis, or a successor then makes the inevitable shift to female priests, the male priesthood being an historically determined time bound artifact, and if once infected by modern feminism, birth control becomes permitted, and it's concomitant abortion, then because none of these potential eventualities is declared ex cathedral, the doctrine of papal infallibility would still somehow be preserved. A total overturning of Catholic truth would have occurred with only papal infallibility, miraculously still left intact.(or it's emptied husk). Sorry Professor Feser, but I'm not biting.

    1. Mainline Protestant Denominations were at one time very conservative. Now they have become bastions of secularism and materialism. The same is happening with the Catholic Church. Yes, God protects His church, but if history is any guide than it is ONLY the remnant church that is protected. How many or few that will be left in the remnant church is open for debate. But it seems that the dross of "mainline" Catholicism is drawing to a close.

    2. I don't understand why you seem to think a pope would not be doing anything with the supreme authority characteristic of his office unless he were making infallible pronouncements?

      As far as your concerns about the present: Obviously it is imaginable that the Catholic Church should defect from its task of preserving the deposit of faith. I think it's fair to say that in that sense the Catholic Faith is falsifiable. What we have confidence in as a result of the virtue of faith is that it is nevertheless impossible for the Church to defect from that task, which is not only divinely ordained but divinely ensured.

      Some I think would deny this and say that what you have described is possible and would just be evidence for something like sedevacantism; the real Catholic Church is somewhere else. However I find that position unstable, as even such people will have to admit that it is imaginable that any remnant true Church could also be wiped from the earth, and hope must involve the rejection of that possibility.

      So yes, from a human perspective, all of the things you mention seem inevitable. But so once did Arianism, and so at another time did birth control. The first apostles would have watched their Lord be crucified if they'd had the courage to stick around. So don't imagine the worst. Pray for faith, pray for hope, pray for the Church, pray for the pope.

    3. Nice historical perspective and yes goodbye to naivete, but I'm unpersuaded by the purely ex cathedra definition of papal infallibility. If that were so there have been only two such statements in church history.

      It is not true that there have only been two instances of popes using the papal magisterial authority to speak ex cathedra. What is usually taught is that there have been at LEAST two instances: viz. Pius IX's declaration that Mary was conceived without sin, and Pius XII's declaration that Mary was assumed into heaven. Vatican I by no means said, or intended to imply, that before Pius IX's declaration, no pope had ever spoken ex cathedra. I go into much more detail on this point in this posting, here:

      But the short version is that the Fathers of V-I would never have wanted to imply such a thing because saying so would also imply that this power of the pope's is a new-found thing, which is impossible.

    4. Hmm, what then was the pope's definitive, binding role in the prior 18 centuries before such official utterances were made? Absent ex cathedra statements,which you define and say Vatican defined, as the sine qua non of infallibility, how did he exercise his supreme authority?

      V-I did not state a specific, definite formula that a pope must use in order to speak ex cathedra: they could not have been doing that, because the description they gave - even though everyone agreed that Pius IX's declaration was ex cathedra - does not square up item by item with their description. At best it only matches up about 85% (and that's if you judge it loosely and generaously, too). And Pius XII's matches up quite a bit less than that. Nobody who accepts that the declarations of those two popes were ex cathedra statements can possibly hold also that in order to use that papal power, the pope must conform to an explicit formula given by v-I. Moreover, the description given by V-II and by Canon Law are each different (in slight details) from the description in V-i and from each other. So we have 3 distinct versions of what it takes to be ex cathedra: they can't all be definitive and explicit formulas that are mandated.

      In point of fact, JPII's Ordinatio Sacerdotalis actually matches up to the criteria listed BETTER than either of the two universally accepted instances. So, if Francis tries to say that women can be ordained, is wrong. And if he tries to say it in an ex cathedra statement, he will fail - such as by dropping dead, or by losing his voice, or by being committed to the nut-house, or...

      But getting down to the present: if Francis accepts the counsels of the Amazonian synod and we end up with female deacons, and if Francis, or a successor then makes the inevitable shift to female priests,

      It is an (admittedly easy) mistake to treat Ordinatio Sacerdotalis as limiting its authority to preclude ordination of women as priests, but not as deacons. The problem is one of translation: in English, the "priestly order" is comprised of deacons, priests and bishops. However, in the language of the Church, the "priestly order" is the "sacerdotal order", and the middle level is that of the presbyterate. If Ordinatio Sacerdotalis had tried to preclude women from being ordained to the middle (or upper) level of the sacerdotal order, but NOT to preclude women from being ordained to the diaconal level, it could not have used the term "sacerdotalis" (or, in the actual phrase, "sacerdotalem", which is the same word in the accusative case), it would have had to use the latin term for the presbyterate, i.e. "presbyteratus". What Ordinatio did was state that women are excluded from the entire collection of orders, because it used the term that refers to the entire group of them all together. They are equally excluded from the diaconate as from the presbyterate and the bishopric orders. I have yet to see anyone who understands the Latin expressions to come to a different conclusion - even those who actually think Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is wrong about its conclusion (such as non-Catholics).

  14. Whatever the case, the Church is in a terrible place.

  15. Further evidence of Freemasonic Pope John XXIII using Vatican II to subvert traditional Catholic doctrine.

  16. Another great link exposing the clandestine agenda of Vatican II. All sources well footnoted. Read and then weep, God's judgment is nigh.

  17. This may be useful!
    How to explain Pope Francis without making things worse

  18. Benedict cannot still be Pope. He has said Francis is Pope. If he was still Pope then doing the former would be a schismatic Act & you would have a Pope who was in schism from the whole Church. Which solves nothing.

    Nope, Francis is the Pope and the smart money is on being so forever.

    I have been fighting the Pachamama wars elsewhere. Anyway I am convinced the Statues are not meant to be Pachamama. I was persuaded to this view by a Catholic fellow who thinks Pope Francis is a bad man and a terrible Pope and a heretic. Which goes to show he is not a member of the Francis-can-do-no-wrong crowd and he doesn't automatically buy every criticism uncritically by the Francis-is-always-the-villain crow.

    Interesting stuff.

    1. Giunta's argument seems pretty decisive to me, except that I don't think he's fair to suggest that everyone who has been troubled by the Pachamama controversy is lying. It would have been genuinely very nice for the Vatican to point out what Giunta points out. I think it would have short-circuited a lot of trad outrage if anyone at the Vatican responsible for such things came out and said, 'Watch the video, you can see that their attention is directed toward the sky and not the statues.' I actually have not even seen defenders of the pope say that.

    2. Greg: I don't think he's fair to suggest that everyone who has been troubled by the Pachamama controversy is lying.

      I would agree that probably none of the people spreading stories like this are deliberately intending to lie flat out. But lying is only way to show disregard for the truth — another is to be “criminally negligent” with the facts. Folks really need to keep in mind that we have real, serious obligations to mind our speech, and our hearing. Listening to and taking part in this sort of talk is not to be taken lightly! It is quite easy for it to be an occasion of sin, or even sinful itself.

    3. The liars are the stream of people who seem insistent on the Statues being Pachamama and that idolatry took place after being confronted by the evidence. Giunta hasn't called Burke or Fr. Pacwa or others "liars" but he has called them wrong. Which should not surprise anyone. If we can say Pope Francis is wrong sometimes, yay even very severely wrong (& we can) well we shouldn't replace a "Francis can do no wrong because he is Pope" mentality with a "Lifesite or Church Militant or self appointed Papal Critics can't be wrong" one either.

      Quote" if you’re an intellectually lazy hack out to author a hit-piece and cannot be bothered to watch the original video for crucial context. And what is that context, beginning at the 11:20 mark of the video? Amazonian Catholics, directing prayer to God, their arms raised in the traditional orans and their gaze directed heavenward — symbolic gestures practiced by Christians all across the denominational spectrum, and one, incidentally, having its roots in ancient Near Eastern paganism, when people believed their gods really did dwell in “heaven,” i.e., Sky-Vault; during this prayer the participants briefly prostrate themselves in worship, before quickly rising again and continuing to pray gazing heavenward. No fair observer would construe this as prayer or any other form of worship directed toward the images the worshipers are circling." END QUOTE

      Well I clicked on the link and watched the video at the crucial Point and yeh he is right. They where not bowing to any of those statues they brought.

      I should point out Giunta among other things endorses the Open Letter that accuses the Holy Father of Heresy. So he has take a strong view of criticism of the Pope that goes beyond Feser or Lawler or others. Yet he feels compelled to defend the Holy Father on this? Why? Simple fact and simple justice. Even a "heretical" Pope or simply a "bad" Pope or a "not great" Pope deserves not to be slandered.

    4. I agree that anyone writing on the topic should have watched the video. And since I have not authored any hit pieces, nor ever opined to anyone, including myself, that the Holy Father is an idolater, maybe he doesn't have me in mind. But early on in the controversy when I tried to hear the "other side" the defenses I found were mainly to the effect that bowing to the statues was ok because:
      (a) the statues are of "Our Lady of the Amazon"
      (b) it is all right to offer a kind of worship to God through Mother Earth because either (I) St. Francis allegedly did something like this or (II) "[e]ven if that had been a pagan rite, what took place was still a worship service. A rite always has something to do with worship. Paganism cannot be dismissed as nothing" (the words of one official of the synod).

      Maybe the pope's defenders in large part did not watch the video either.

      At that point I decided the controversy was best ignored, and until Feser posted about it I've only spoken of it to some close friends who asked.

  19. @R.C.

    Catholic Lawyer Eric Giunta believes Pope Francis is "a bad man, a terrible Pope & a heretic". He also believes this Pachamama nonsense is fakes news and argues why with a keen analysis of the evidence. Enjoy.

    Interesting stuff.

    1. Son of Ya'Kov:

      Thanks for the link. I have a 2-part reply:

      That's the first I've seen anyone try to argue that it wasn't open idolatry. The other replies I've seen, invaryingly, consist of downplaying the events, casting aspersions at those concerned, etc., but not actual arguments. That approach made me suspicious: Why not refute a claim on the merits?

      Giunta gives real argument, which is good. I hope Giunta is correct. But I'm not yet convinced.

      First, I think he's attacking a misunderstood version of the claim. The claim is not that the Pachamama cult has a widespread, long-documented, pan-Amazonian fixed liturgy and practice dating back to pre-Christian times, but rather that it represents a neo-pagan hodgepodge invented in modern times which claims to be connected to the pre-Christian religion of certain indigenous peoples in the area, notably the Xukuru. The Pachamama cult's current details may only be fifty years old, an imagined and syncretic recreation (like the goofy neo-pagans who gather at Stonehenge to practice "druidism").

      The Amazon Synod seems to have quasi-canonized Xicão Xukuru as a martyr, and featured posters of him prominently in association with the Mother Earth blanket/statue arrangements. (See here: and make sure you zoom in on the photo.)

      At least one of Taylor Marshall's guests in the last few weeks described Xicão Xukuru's photo, and others, being placed on Catholic altars during the synod (a spot reserved for canonized saints; we say after canonization that a person has been "raised to the altars"). If this is accurate, I think it reasonable to ask: Who is this man of whom posters are so prominently displayed at the synod?

      Well, he's an anti-land-development activist. But in interviews he said he claimed he was restoring the "sacred mysticism," suppressed by the white man, involving worship of the earth (pacha), forests, rivers, etc. Discussing the risk of his being killed by land-developers, he said: "If that is my fate given by Mother Nature and God, then I'm ready." And when he was in fact killed, his burial ritual included these words: "Receive your son, my Mother Nature. He won't be buried, He will be planted so that from him new warriors will be born, my Mother Nature. He will be planted, my Mother Nature, the way he wanted, under your shadow, my Mother Nature. To give life to new warriors, my Mother Nature. So that our fight won't stop, my Mother Nature." In the above, the term pachamama is translated "Mother Nature."

      To me, that sounds kinda pagan. Doesn't it, to you? Surely one can't call him an orthodox Christian. Why, then, did he receive canonized-saint treatment at the Synod?


    2. ...continuing...

      Bernardo Küster, a lay-Catholic YouTuber from Brazil, claims that the Pachamama cult involves the use of blood for pacts and devotions. How does Küster know this? He doesn't give his sources. I'm not from Brazil (and it's a big place anyway), but I guess he'd know better than I.

      If he's correct, then there is (by logical implication) some kind of existing Pachamama cult known in Brazil, however small. (If he's making it up whole-cloth, or repeating someone else who did so, then maybe Giunta is correct.)

      Still, I ask myself: Would I, as a Catholic, do the bowing-down at the blanket that these persons were photographed and video-recorded doing? What would I mean by such a gesture? Giunta seems to take the view that it's absurd to find such a gesture suspicious. I myself can't imagine not being suspicious.

      For comparison, Giunta gives some Baptists praying in a circle around a globe. I don't think it takes much effort to see differences between the two examples. The globe isn't personified as a mother. The Baptists gathered 'round it presumably didn't bring the globe in specially for the purpose of the ceremony. They didn't don ritual headdresses, present red-bowl offerings of earth, etc. And Baptists, of course, are famously suspicious of Catholicism's intercession of the saints! One knows confidently that they're not bowing to "Mother Earth!" But the Xukuru? Do I have any reason to think the Xukuru are equally as inured against earth-mother idolatry as the Baptists are?

      Giunta also gets mileage out of Pachamama presumably being an Andean, rather than Amazonian, goddess. To be sure, there's a big geographical difference! ...but then, the Xukuru are in Brazil, and it is this Xukuru "martyr" whose image is displayed behind the naked statues, it is their "Mother Nature" that is identified with the naked statues, and the statues are in turn called "Pachamamas." What am I to conclude?

      Perhaps it's as simple as this: He who doesn't mind syncretizing Christianity with one expression of paganism will have few qualms intermixing two similar expressions of paganism from different regions.

      So, I remain unconvinced of the innocence-of-intention of these rites.

      And, I remain utterly convinced that IF they were innocent, they were profoundly, foreseeably scandalous. To be foreseeably scandalous is gravely sinful.

    3. Son of Ya'Kov, I went to Eric's site hoping and expecting to see unbiased argumentation. In the original post, he does a decent job of it, though not stellar. In the replies, though, his grading falls to well below C-. He insists on claiming evidence against one of his points is not evidence, and in claiming that various points are red herrings when they are not. Most importantly, he seems to be completely tin-eared to the distinction Fr. Longanecker made (but others have also made in slightly different terms) that whether it was out-and-out idol worship or not, it certainly involved (at a minimum) the liturgical reverence we offer of dulia to the saints, and we Catholics do not give that kind of reverence to abstract concepts like "life" and "fertility" but only to persons, in particular, to persons who through grace were made into excellent images of the divine Jesus Christ, the God-man. All other reverencing of images is unCatholic.

    4. You disappoint me Tony. This is a weak response for you as you are normally an A plus. I expected better and this is D for you big guy. No offense. One bad grade.....

      > He insists on claiming evidence against one of his points is not evidence, and in claiming that various points are red herrings when they are not.

      Unless you can point to specifics then this is a non sequitur.

      >the liturgical reverence we offer of dulia to the saints, and we Catholics do not give that kind of reverence to abstract concepts like "life" and "fertility" but only to persons,

      Except as points Eric points out & as I cited above QUOTE "if you’re an intellectually lazy hack out to author a hit-piece and cannot be bothered to watch the original video for crucial context. And what is that context, beginning at the 11:20 mark of the video? Amazonian Catholics, directing prayer to God, their arms raised in the traditional orans and their gaze directed heavenward — symbolic gestures practiced by Christians all across the denominational spectrum, and one, incidentally, having its roots in ancient Near Eastern paganism, when people believed their gods really did dwell in “heaven,” i.e., Sky-Vault; during this prayer the participants briefly prostrate themselves in worship, before quickly rising again and continuing to pray gazing heavenward. No fair observer would construe this as prayer or any other form of worship directed toward the images the worshipers are circling." END QUOTE

      So no reverence was being given to the Statues in the first place so wither they are Mary or Symbols of Fertility and Mother Earth becomes kind of irrelevant.

      >we Catholics do not give [dulia] to abstract concepts like "life" and "fertility" but only to persons,

      How do we know they where not giving civilia? Anyway it is kind of a moot point. I have no reason to believe Latria was being given to a goddess and I have no reason to believe Dulia was being given to concepts. I watch the video. I can believe Lifesite and Church Militant or my own eyes. I choose my eyes.

    5. Additionally . Eric answer a Tony M. Is that you bro?

      Because I concur with his response.

      "It’s still not physically or logically impossible that these are Pachamama idols” is not a serious counter-argument"

      You made some good arguments that the statues could be Pachamama but ya didn't prove it beyond the reasonable doubt and Eric is a lawyer.....just saying.

      Also yer criticisms of Pope Francis and the Vatican spin do realize Giunta likely agrees with all of that? He thinks Pope Francis is a heretic. He agrees 100% with that Open Letter Accusing him of heresy. So one cannot accuse Eric of being "Naïve and sycophantic papal apologists".

      So yeh...

  20. The case of Pope Vigilius is indeed important for the current situation in the Church. It is worth spelling out how. The Three Chapters were anathematized by the Second Council of Contantinople, which was an ecumenical council. Its 13th canon asserts; 'if anyone defends the heretical writings of Theodoret which were composed against the true faith, against the first holy synod of Ephesus and against holy Cyril and his Twelve Chapters, and also defends what Theodoret wrote to support the heretical Theodore and Nestorius and others who think in the same way as the aforesaid Theodore and Nestorius and accept them or their heresy and if anyone, because of them, shall accuse of being heretical the doctors of the church who have stated their belief in the union according to subsistence of God the Word; and if anyone does not anathematize these heretical books and those who have thought or now think in this way, and all those who have written against the true faith or against holy Cyril and his twelve chapters, and who persist in such heresy until they die: let him be anathema.' Since this is an infallible teaching of an ecumenical council, denying it is heresy. When Pope Vigilius dragged his feet about condemning the three chapters at the council, his name was removed from the diptychs by the bishops at the council - i.e. they stopped praying for him during the celebration of mass. This was a rejection of communion with him that stopped just short of a formal excommunication. This was brutally underlined to him in a letter from the Emperor Justinian, which told him that he had separated himself from the Catholic Church by his defence of the heretical chapters. Faced with this treatment, Vigilius backtracked and heartily endorsed the condemnation of the Three Chapters. The pertinence of the episode is that a previous pope was cast out of the communion of the Church because of heresy.

  21. Mr. Feser is grabbing at straws. There is no comparison between Pope Vigilius and what has been publicly pushed on the whole Church since Vatican II. Pope Vigilius didn't promote error to the universal Church, but the alleged popes of Vatican II have. It is impossible for true popes to do that....therefore they are not true popes.

    1. Nonsense, Rube.

      Whether or not the popes before or since Vatican II are true popes is a matter of whether the canon law was followed to make them popes, and that is purely a matter for canonists making use of information available in the public forum.

      Vatican I, provided you interpret it in accord with the Hermeneutic of Continuity and not a Hermeneutic of Rupture, is perfectly clear: A pope is nowhere guaranteed to promote orthodoxy, or even prevented from promoting heterodoxy, save when exercising his office in a way which engages the charism of infallibility. And nobody from St. Peter onwards ever held that every word and deed of the pontiff engaged that charism.

      That doesn't mean that Pope Francis is necessarily a true pope. It only means that his promotion of heterodoxy in various ways that don't engage the charism of infallibility doesn't rule out the possibility of his being a true pope.

      Now if he did exercise his office to teach what you and I regard to be heresy, and in a way that you and I agreed should have engaged the charism of infallibility, then we'd be presented with three possibilities:
      (a.) He somehow isn't a true pope (and we'd then be forced to work backwards to figure out what had made his election invalid);
      (b.) We were somehow wrong about what constituted heresy and orthodoxy (and we'd be forced to work backwards to discover whether this was just our own stupidity, or constituted a falsification of Catholicism's claim to make the content of the faith objectively knowable); or,
      (c.) The Catholic claim of papal infallibility was wrong, and along with it, Vatican I, and along with that, Ecumenical Councils ratified by the pope, and along with that, Catholicism.

      The problem with your post is that you're jumping the gun, acting as if Francis' words and deeds fell under the charism...and then leaping from there to Option (a.). But Pope Francis seems almost pathologically to have avoided the kind of venues and instruments which could possibly engage the charism of infallibility. So as of yet, Options (a.), (b.), and (c.) actually aren't on the table.

  22. Dr. Feser, I think you should take a loot at where you will find the Canonical arguments and my own Scholastic Question on the debate regarding the invalidity of Benedict's resignation, as you seem to only have a peripheral knowledge of the state of the question


    Br. Alexis Bugnolo
    The Scholasticum

  23. When we are in Christ and Christ’s Spirit is in us, we are members of the mystical Body of Christ, with Christ as the Head, regardless of what happens within the organizational structure of the Church on earth.