By Laura Robbins
I am happy to have Laura Robbins writing another guest post for CatholicEclipsed. As much as I would have enjoyed writing this article myself, my wife beat me to the punch! Let me just point out that she wrote this refutation to Steve’s article at midnight on her phone, in between nursing two infants, and after having conducted a full day of homeschooling and caring for our six young children. So, if I wore a hat, it would be off to her for a job marvelously well done. If you enjoyed this article, please let Laura know in the comments. I am sure she would appreciate the feedback–Robert Robbins.
Steve Speray wrote another article trying to refute the “Home Alone” position. But, aside from all the work it takes to cut-and-paste on my phone and the missed sleep (!), this was simple to refute. Why is it that sedevacantists think they have such air-tight arguments and yet, pray-at-home Catholics can see right through them so easily?
I’ll cut to the chase. Steve Speray refutes his own argument (all based on theologians) with this one sentence,
“This is one reason why listing a collection of theological opinions proves nothing.”
This is because we owe the theological opinions no assent unless there is a unanimous agreement on an infallible matter. We follow our pastors and our catechism. Thanks for the hard work, Steve; you made my refuting your article quite easy!
Just kidding, but seriously. Now, let’s back up here for a proper refutation. Steve’s quotes will be in green from here on out, and as always the BC is red for clarity. First, Steve’s statement that,
“…the Church has by Divine right to live and carry on its mission of saving souls through the sacraments…”
and therefore his argument that Sede clergy have rights to operate in every way that they do rests solely upon what the Church teaches about the sacrament of penance. Theologians may disagree about what constitutes danger of death for a penitent, and therefore what are the proper circumstances for a valid absolution, but that is as far as they go. I grant that penance may be valid in very limited circumstances today, but I don’t think our situation, especially in “cushy” America, constitutes a constant danger of death. That’s taking quite a liberty on the arguments used by the theologians he quotes! Therefore, assuming validity, there’s no argument for constantly giving absolution to penitents according to the opinions of theologians, and none of their opinions carries over into any one of the other sacraments.
Next, Steve apparently forgets, or ignores, the fact that the Church exists with a THREE-fold mission: to TEACH, GOVERN, and sanctify.
BC 984. The Church possesses and confers on her pastor, the power of orders and the power of jurisdiction; that is, the power to administer the Sacraments and sanctify the faithful, and the power to teach and make laws that direct the faithful to their spiritual good. A bishop has the full power of orders and the Pope alone has the full power of jurisdiction.
Now sacraments do sanctify, but prayer not only gives grace, the catechism teaches that without prayer we cannot be saved!
1098. There is another means of obtaining God’s grace, and it is prayer.
1104. Prayer is necessary to salvation, and without it no one having the use of reason can be saved.
It doesn’t say that for any one of the sacraments, except for baptism, and even a desire to be baptized can save a soul in certain circumstances (see BC 654 below).
So, what do the sedevacantist bishops themselves say about their right to teach and govern? Here are some quotes you may have never heard before: (taken directly from this online trad forum).
Archbishop Lefebvre explaining that his bishops are not claiming ordinary jurisdiction:
“We are striving to act in such a way that we cannot be reproached with the bishops’ being given a territorial jurisdiction, in such a way that there is no bishop being attributed to such and such a territory.”
Bishop Daniel Dolan stated in an interview:
“We don’t claim to possess any ordinary jurisdiction or the power of excommunication. We have moral authority, but we don’t boss people around. We’re sacramental bishops, and traditionalist communities simply can’t survive for very long without sacramental bishops.”
Bishop Sanborn, Most Holy Trinity Seminary Newsletter, June 7, 2002:
“Bishops in these times are not truly dignitaries, since they are not appointed by the ecclesiastical authority. Bishops today function merely as priests do, that is, they are there in the emergency of Vatican II to provide sacraments to the people. The only difference is that bishops may give more sacraments than priests, and therefore their service to the Mystical Body of Christ is augmented. They merely have more to do.
St. Thomas says that the episcopacy is an extension of the sacrament of Holy Orders. It is something like putting an extra room on an existing house. The priesthood is a power over the real body of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, and the episcopacy is a power over the Mystical Body of Christ, that is, the Church. The bishop can ordain and consecrate, and in such a way sees to the extension and continuation of the Mystical Body of Christ. Because bishops have a sacramental power which relates to the Mystical Body of Christ,in ordinary times they have jurisdiction, the ability to make laws, and are dignitaries. Even auxiliary bishops, who had no jurisdiction, were given titular sees, ancient dioceses which no longer had any Catholics in them, to show the connection of the bishop to the governance of the Mystical Body. In our times, however, traditional bishops and priests lack the power to nominate to episcopal sees, even titular ones, and the function of the bishop is limited to sacramental powers.”
So, you see, as Sanborn elaborates, normally even bishops not appointed over the faithful (titular bishops) were given a see in order to show that they had governing power as a bishop. Bishops are supposed to be successors of the apostles and as such, they have jurisdiction, i.e. the ability to TEACH and GOVERN, not just to sanctify and teach the faith which baptism, prayer, and a layman with a catechism can do. The “bishop-as-sacrament-dispenser” idea is completely novel. Oops… the Sedes may have just created a heresy (or at least a theological error) just for themselves!
Here’s what the Church says with regard to Her bishops, who are always true successors of the apostles:
507. We know that the bishops of the Church are the successors of the Apostles because they continue the work of the Apostles and give proof of the same authority. They have always exercised the rights and powers that belonged to the Apostles in making laws for the Church, in consecrating bishops and ordaining priests.
Also, the laws of the Church or even the opinions of the theologians do not give free license for bishops and priests to do what the Sedes have done. I have never read any sedevacantist who quoted a Church teaching, law, or theological opinion which stated:
- the Holy Eucharist can be confected publicly and Holy Communion given regardless of jurisdictional status (or excused from the law like in danger of death), or
- a bishop (who doesn’t even have a diocese where he is receiving jurisdiction!) can be consecrated without a papal mandate, or
- bishops are able to set up seminaries or grammar schools without diocesan/Rome approval (i.e. jurisdiction), or
- bishops are able to ordain rogue priests without a proper mission/parish (i.e. jurisdiction), or
- bishops or priests without jurisdiction (and a proper marriage tribunal) are able to rule in the case of validity of marriages, or
- the faithful are not sinning when committing communicatio in sacris by going back and forth attending mass as SSPX chapels in communion with Francis and then to CMRI priests (as when Pivarunas states to his congregation that this is not a sin), or
- priests and bishops can call their churches “parishes” without jurisdiction or territorial boundaries set up and approved by the Church,
- Etc., ad nauseam, to include all the ways sedevacantists have excused themselves from the laws of the Church.
Sedevacantists are always just asserting Ecclesia supplet or “Necessity knows no law.” I think it’s more like “Sedes know no law.”
Fourth, Steve tries to use Rev. Ott to argue the absolute necessity of the sacraments according to this quote:
“Rev. Ludwig Ott taught, ‘The Sacraments are the means appointed by God for the attainment of eternal salvation. Three of them are in the ordinary way of salvation so necessary, that without their use salvation cannot be attained. Thus, for the individual person, Baptism is necessary in this way and after the commission of a grievous sin, Penance is equally necessary, while for the Church in general, the Sacrament of Holy Orders is necessary. The other Sacraments are necessary in so far as salvation cannot be so easily gained without them.’  Ott tells us on p. 332, ‘All the Sacraments of the New Covenant confer sanctifying grace on the receivers. (De fide.)’ No ecclesiastical law could be used to prevent the Church as a whole from carrying on its mission of saving souls through these life-giving sacraments.”
But if Steve knew his catechism, he would know that in Her most basic teachings, the Church actually says this:
BC 654. We know that baptism of desire or of blood will save us when it is impossible to receive the baptism of water, from Holy Scripture, which teaches that love of God and perfect contrition can secure the remission of sins; and also that Our Lord promises salvation to those who lay down their life for His sake or for His teaching.
BC 766. Perfect contrition will obtain pardon for mortal sin without the Sacrament of Penance when we cannot go to confession, but with the perfect contrition we must have the intention of going to confession as soon as possible, if we again have the opportunity.
Now, at the end of the post, Steve grants the pray-at-home Catholics sincerity (thank you, Steve!) and states,
“If the home-aloners are correct and avoided sedevacantist clergy, they have gained nothing, but the fact they followed their conscience, which both sides do anyway.”
If we are correct, Steve, we have gained everything and lost nothing! If we are correct, the sedevacantists have potentially all lost their souls by possibly not having perfect contrition and relying on invalid absolution! We have gained innumerable graces and the peace of mind that comes with following our conscience on the only path actually available. We have followed Our Lord and Our Lady into the wilderness where we are supposed to be during the apocalypse and suffered with Our Lord.
“However, if they are wrong:
1. They lose numerous graces from the sacraments they could have received. / We gained numerous graces from the sacraments.
First, we don’t lose grace unless we sin, but we may forfeit the ability to receive more graces. And this only if we are assuming that we are able to get to the sacraments, that the sacraments are valid, and that they are licit — the whole point of this article was to show that the Sede’s are NOT licit, even if they are valid. No grace is received from illicit sacraments.
2. Their chance of losing their souls becomes greater. / The chance of losing our souls decreases.
I argue that the Sede’s chance is greater because they are relying on not just possibly, but probably invalid absolution instead of attaining to perfect contrition, which the catechism exhorts us to even when utilizing the sacrament of penance:
Q. 769. Imperfect contrition is sufficient for a worthy confession, but we should endeavor to have perfect contrition.
3. Their chance of gaining heaven becomes less. / [Our] chance of gaining heaven increases.
Redundant, and therefore answered.
4. [Their] probability of having a tougher purgatory becomes greater. / [Our] probability of having a tough purgatory decreases.
Well, first off, that’s to assume sedevacantists are receiving grace with illicit sacraments, which they don’t. And, I guess Steve is accusing the pray-at-home Catholics of sloth regarding the state of their soul because graces are received through prayer and penance, and I am also guessing Steve doesn’t know anything about indulgences, which remit (at least some) temporal punishment due to sin. All of these are mentioned in the catechism. Also, with regard to the sacrament of penance itself, the BC teaches:
BC 802 The slight penance the priest gives us is not sufficient to satisfy for all the sins confessed:
1. Because there is no real equality between the slight penance given and the punishment deserved for sin;
2. Because we are all obliged to do penance for sins committed, and this would not be necessary if the penance given in confession satisfied for all. The penance is given and accepted in confession chiefly to show our willingness to do penance and make amends for our sins.
BC 803 The Sacrament of Penance remits the eternal punishment due to sin, but it doesnotalways remit the temporal punishment which God requires as satisfaction for our sins.
BC 804 God requires a temporal punishment as a satisfaction for sin to teach us the great evil of sin and to prevent us from falling again.
BC 805 The chief means by which we satisfy God for the temporal punishment due to sin are: Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving; all spiritual and corporal works of mercy, and the patient suffering of the ills of life.
All of which, the pray-at-home Catholics have and do in spades.
5. They will not have lived and died in the greatest possible manner. / We will have lived and died as holy as possible with the sacraments.
This statement has nothing to do with whether one prays at home or goes to Sede clergy. This is the crux of the matter. It some ways, it seems the sedes equate the sacraments with the Church. The sacraments belong to the Church, but not everywhere they are to be found IS therefore the Church, as heretics and schismatics can have valid sacraments. Also, the sacraments are not the entirety of a Christian life. Prayer is necessary to save one’s soul, but in addition, fasting, almsgiving, works of mercy, these are the means to a holy life, not exclusively the sacraments! Is Steve trying to say that the desert hermits, for example, who didn’t receive sacraments, were not living in the greatest possible manner? What about St. Hermenegild who died a joyous martyr instead of receiving his yearly communion from an Arian bishop? Are the Sedevacantists seriously living in the greatest possible manner just because they receive supposedly valid and licit sacraments?!
6. They will not be as close to Jesus and Mary in life and in death. / We will be closer to Jesus and Mary in life and in death.
Prayer in general, the rosary, the scapulars, consecration to Jesus through the Blessed Virgin, devotion to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts, and so much more will lead a sincere Catholic close to Our Lord and Our Lady. And receiving the sacraments as such does not equate to efficaciousness. To receive them worthily requires a certain disposition otherwise they are not efficacious, and no grace is received. You’re assuming a lot here, Steve, although obviously done in charity. Again, sacraments are not the entire Christian life, and it’s just an empty assertion to make such a claim.
7. Their place in heaven may not reach the heights it could have been. / Our place in heaven becomes the highest it could possibly be, because of the sacraments.
Well, we will only know our place in heaven if and when we get there. But I don’t think the Church has ever taught that just because you receive the sacraments (whenever and however often you may or do) that you will achieve the highest place in heaven, as argued above. I can only speak for myself here, but I certainly am not one to presume upon my place in heaven, nor do I devote myself to prayer, penance, etc. in order to gain a more glorious crown. I do it out of a desire to please my God and to atone for my sins and the sins of others.
At it’s most basic level, the argument against the Sedevacantists is this: they were not sent by the Church, and they admit it! They, therefore, have no liceity, no mission, no jurisdiction, no authority, no ability to confer grace with their sacraments because:
BC 489. 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.
BC 494. 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.
BC 1004. Bishops, priests and other ministers of the Church cannot exercise the power they have received in Holy Orders unless authorized and sent to do so by their lawful superiors. The power can never be taken from them, but the right to use it may be withdrawn for causes laid down in the laws of the Church, or for reasons that seem good to those in authority over them. Any use of sacred power without authority is sinful, and all who take part in such ceremonies are guilty of sin.
How are sedevacantists a part of the Church given the definition of the Church and their bishops’ own quotes above? Answer: they are not, and therefore, we should avoid them as the schismatic, intruder bishops and priests that they are. Even if we grant them validity, they confer no grace, except for penance given in danger of death. And if the sedevacantists going to these clergy are guilty of sin, if it be mortal, they cannot receive any grace from any prayer or penance or anything else,
BC 760 …sanctifying grace and mortal sin cannot dwell together. If there be grace in the soul, there can be no mortal sin, and if there be mortal sin, there can be no grace, for one mortal sin expels all grace.
I know this has been a long and bumpy ride. Hopefully, you made it to the end, and learned a little of your catechism along the way. And, Steve, I hope you see how grievously your arguments fail.
The lament of all material heretics: “If I just read my catechism…” When St. Peter meets you at the gate, he is not going to ask you if you read Van Noort, Ott, council canons, canon law, or even St. Alphonse Liguori or St. Thomas Aquinas. He is going to ask why you didn’t read your Catechism.