Snipe-Hunting for the Endangered Species Ecclesia Catholica

Can You Spot All the Magical Mythical Monsters

In the past week I have received a firestorm of replies on Twitter which accuse me of holding to heresy, to the idea that the Church has defected because I don’t know where it is. A typical example runs, “With all due respect, you believe in a church that has defected and is not visible. I believe in an eclipsed Church, that has clergy and the Sacraments but is not as easily found as it once was. You do not know where the Church is, it’s not eclipsed for you, it’s gone.” 

Were the accusation true, I would be a heretic, and would be obliged to do a Sect Spect Report on myself, which would prove somewhat awkward. But, happily, it is not true. I do not believe that the Church has defected. In the Twitter thread, I stressed to my interlocutor the importance of abiding by the philosophical and commonsensical maxim: proceed from the known to the unknown. The reason for doing so should be obvious to anyone at the age of reason, but an example may help to illustrate.  

When I served aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), I heard stories about how new recruits in the engineering department were tried and tested, or else just hazed. The recruit was given a sack and a flashlight and was told to go down into the dark engine room and search for what was called a snipe. He did so without hesitation to prove his readiness to obey all lawful orders of a superior. The result was, though, that the credulous recruit fumbled in the dark all day in a vain quest to find what didn’t exist.

I’d Rather Be Snipe-Hunting

If the unsuspecting sailor just exercised some commonsense, he would have understood that one cannot find what one does not know. To know what a thing is comes before the knowledge of where it is. If the sailor simply asked, “Is it bird-like or cat-like? Four legs or two? Large or small?” then the snickering superior probably would have been tripped up so much the whole joke would have been exposed, and the new recruit, saved from the embarrassment by his sound and questioning mind, would have gone on to enjoy his day spent in a more happy pursuit––like sipping a frozen margarita in a San Diego bar.  

So what’s the point of this delightful digression? I contend that, just as the sailor didn’t know what a snipe was, but was enthusiastically willing to find it, so the Sedevacantist congregant doesn’t know what the Church is, but is enthusiastically willing, not only to look for and find it, but to bag it, run back to Twitter and pull it out, hold it up as a valid and legitimate specimen of the endangered species, ecclesia catholica, and condemn as doctrinal quacks anyone who doesn’t concur.  

Shall we go snipe-hunting ourselves, then, and see what we find? Let’s, but the first question to ask is what does the the Church say the Church is, because we don’t want to spend the next decade in the dark of some sect because we didn’t think things through and ask that question first. Let’s try to trip up those who would see us hoodwinked and beguiled into believing the Church was here or there, before we know what the Church is.

The Spirit of Truth

The Spirit of Truth was given to the Church for all time to teach all mankind the revelation of Jesus Christ and the good news of salvation. The Teaching Church, the pope and councils of bishops in communion with him, promulgated catechisms for the religious instruction of the Church Faithful, or Believing Church. As such, these catechisms are the ordinary and universal magisterium to which the lay faithful owe their divine and Catholic assent of faith. 

With this firmly held in mind, let’s read the answer to our question in the Baltimore Catechism:

“The Church is the congregation of all those who profess the faith of Christ, partake of the same sacraments, and are governed by their lawful pastors under one visible Head,” (A.489), and “By ‘lawful pastors’ we mean those in the Church who have been appointed by lawful authority and who have, therefore, a right to rule us. The lawful pastors in the Church are: Every priest in his own parish; every bishop in his own diocese, and the Pope in the whole Church,” (A.494).  

So now that we know what the Church is, we can start hunting. The Conciliar sect is not the Church, because it doesn’t profess the faith of Christ, denying almost every single dogma of the Church; the Recognize and Resist sect is not the Church, because it doesn’t profess the faith of Christ, either, denying, for instance the attributes of authority, infallibility, and indefectibility of the Church, among a host of other dogmas. What about the Sedevacantists, are they the Church? According to the universal ordinary magisterium of the Baltimore Catechism, which was given to us lay faithful to learn and be able to answer such a question, the answer is an emphatic, “Not on your life!”  

Not only were Sedevacantists bishops not appointed by lawful authority, I don’t think any claim to rule within a diocese or parish––a neon sign advertising that they are only flirting with being lawful pastors, but they lack the pluck to try to do so. But let’s assume they do make such a claim. We’ll question them further with the help of our handy-dandy book of codified infallible universal ordinary magisterial teachings. 

A Constellation of Signs

With bag, flashlight, and catechism in hand, ask the Sedevacantist clergy, “Do you possess the three attributes of the Church, namely, authority, infallibility, and indefectibility, without which the four marks of unity, sanctity, catholicity, and apostolicity could not exist, which attributes and marks the Church must have, because Christ said so? ” (Cf. A.519, A.520 and A.522). 

“Further,” you’ll want to add, “If you do claim such attributes and subsequently such marks, could you prove your apostolic successional authority, by showing that you received it directly or indirectly from God? Could you also direct me to the laws you have promulgated for the common good of the Church?” (Cf. A.507, A.524). 

Did the Sedevacantist bishop answer your questions, or rather quote canon law, theological textbooks and commentaries, Greek terms, Latin precepts, or nothing at all? Did he tell you how silly you were to rely on so simplistic and unsophisticated a text as a catechism to determine what and where the Church is during these times of extraordinary emergency?

My Twitter interlocutor set out to find the Church, without asking first what the Church is. He believed the Sedevacantist bishop’s claim to be the Church, before he even knew what the Church was. Is it any wonder, therefore, that he found a magical mythical monster instead of a member of the species ecclesia catholica