by Robert Robbins
Dams were Built for a Reason
In a recent post, Steve Speray wrote a response to me, entitled, “Robert Robbins’ Futile Attempt to Defend the Home Alone Position,” in which he states the following:
1. There is a thing known as cessation of law and epieikeia. Robbins has not made a case that the law of consecrating bishops by papal mandate is absolute where cessation of the law or epieikeia is impossible.
My article to which Speray refers dealt with the idea of necessity, in particular, how the sacraments themselves were not absolutely necessary, and so cessation of law need not be invoked to consecrate bishops, ordain priests, open seminaries, monasteries, and mass centers all over America. The whole presumption is that the sacraments were absolutely necessary for our salvation, and so priests were absolutely necessary for the sacraments, and so bishops were absolutely necessary for priests. All I did was gently point out the fact that the first presumption is false, and so the last assertion is false. But that wasn’t conclusive for Speray. I hope it at least gets readers of this blog thinking more critically about the claims made by Sedevacantists concerning necessity. From where I’m standing, there’s a gigantic whole in their logic.
Anyway, this post is more about the other principle often invoked, but which is essentially the same as the cessation of law. That is, epikeia. I am currently reading History, Nature, and Use of Epikeia in Moral Theology, by Rev. Lawrence Joseph Riley, A.B., S.T.L., a dissertation written in 1948 Riley produced while attending The Catholic University of America, back when it was Catholic. On p. 20, Riley writes:
This, then, is the nature of epikeia — “a correction of law where it is defective owing to its universality.” 6 For it is reasonable that there exist some means of emending a law in a particular case where it errs because its terminology is universal, even though in general the law may be ordained to the common good.
I do not pretend to have a full understanding of epikeia and the ways in which it may be applied validly and lawfully to any given situation. I would like to study this question more in-depth by reading Riley’s work. What I propose below is but a preliminary musing of mine. It is definitely opinion, but it sounds reasonable to me. I encourage thoughtful discussion on it in the comments if readers feel inclined. It is only through discussing these issues that a better understanding of them may be attained, and we may have peace of mind and spirit.
To that end, a thoughtful reader of this blog brought up a good point just before I was going to write this article, which I hope he doesn’t mind I share:
“…I believe there is sufficient doubt concerning the use of epieikeia in the Thuc consecrations, that staying home as a Catholic is the safest option. Plus, from the examples they provide in the book concerning epieikeia, it seems to be something an individual would use regarding some law as it affects him in an extraordinary way, not something that would be applied to the whole Church. Who decided for all Catholics that the Thuc consecrations had to happen and that epieikeia could be applied? Was it Thuc? Was it the priests who were to be consecrated?…”
The whole notion of epikeia is that it applies to universal law in its application to a particular case. But that is not what Sedevacantist do. They apply epikeia, not to a particular case, but to the universal state of affairs in the world. This is tantamount to saying that the universal law as such was defective as conceived and applied universally, and so the lawgiver–in this case the Church, if we are confining ourselves to speaking on the necessity of papal mandates for episcopal consecrations–was defective in legislating the law, because, alas, it is universally in need of correction. Obviously this conclusion is intolerable and absurd. The Church is infallible and unerring in her ecclesiastical law, otherwise we would be led astray by evil laws. The Sedevacantists, at the rockbottom of this debate about epikeia, are really saying that the laws of the Church are defective if universally applied. Let that sink in.
Some may object and say I go too far, because, after all, though it is true that the application of the law in the current situation is universal in space, it is not so in time. The current state of affairs have only been so since the death of Pius XII, after the death of whom the universal law of a papal mandate became defective, not on account of its universal application in space, but because of its universal application in time.
The objection sounds solid, but for the fact that the lawgiver undoubtedly foresaw the possibility of an interregnum, as there is always an interregnum after the death of a pope. The only difference is that there has been several decades since the Church has had a pope, whereas usually the Church does not have to wait this long.
The papal mandate is a law for the common good. Anyone who thinks about it for a moment, knows that to be true. We cannot have any man be a successor to the Apostles for Heaven’s sake–not that Sedevacantists actually claim to be successors to the Apostles, but that’s for another post. To say that the papal mandate is not required because it is a detriment to the common good when it was established for the common good, is absurd. It is like saying that a dam which was established for the common good of not flooding a village downstream should be removed because it is a detriment to the common good of the village. The idea is unintelligible. The net result has been a flood of doubtfully valid, unformed priests throughout America–and elsewhere in the world, but predominately here–offering doubtfully valid and licit sacraments in moonlight missions.
But there is another argument against the use of epikeia. If epikeia is only applicable to human law, which errs in its universal form when applied to a particular case, but epikeia is never applied to the natural law, but rather is used to make just and equitable what is lacking in the human law, thereby bringing the human law up to the natural law, it stands to reason that epikeia could never be invoked to correct Divine law. But canonical mission, whereby apostolic succession is transmitted from a lawful bishop consecrating a priest with the approval of the bishop’s lawful superior (the pope), is what the papal mandate secures. So, at least in its object, though not in its essence, the papal mandate is a matter of Divine law, not merely human law, and so cannot be corrected by epikeia.
Like I said, these are just some preliminary points and thoughts I have after reading a little of Riley’s book on epikeia, which I encourage those who can to read as well–it is scholarly, which means very dense and somewhat dry. I do not think that Steve has made a case at all for necessity or the use of epikeia, which he must do. The burden of proof is on the one who claims a right to act, not on the one who is trying to act within the law and claims no right to act without it. But I have shown, in albeit a sketchy and preliminarily way, a couple arguments against the use of epikeia, which may help to kickstart a deeper discussion and research into the question of its valid use in the current crisis.
So much for Speray’s first point. Let me jump to his third:
3. Robbins accuses our bishops and priests of “ignoring the law.” However, there’s also the law on publishing Catholic material. Can. 1384 § 1 tells us we don’t have a right to publish books without approval. § 2: “extends the meaning of the term books so as to include newspapers and other periodical publications as well as all other published writings, unless the contrary is manifest.”
Steve is right here. I do not have the right to publish anything, but I believe that justice and a reasonable cause compel me to do so, without the ordinary’s approval–which is physically impossible. As always, I turn to the BC for guidance, which teaches the following:
1180. We are obliged to make open profession of our faith as often as God’s honor, our neighbor’s spiritual good or our own requires it. “Whosoever,” says Christ, “shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven.”
Here we have a positive precept to profess the faith when our neighbor’s spiritual good requires it or when God’s honor demands it. Unlike the reception of the sacraments which have substitutes for them, such as perfect contrition for penance, spiritual communion for the Holy Eucharist, and even Baptism of Desire for Water Baptism, there is no substitute for the profession of the faith. You either do it or you do not, and it is impossible to please God without faith. There are millions upon millions of would-be faithful Catholics who are in ignorance of the true faith because of the reign of the Antichrist. CatholicEclipsed is just a dim light to help those in the darkness. And since I try only to assert that which may be known through right reason or the catechism, I do not think any evil but only good is coming from this website. I hope Speray would not think otherwise. I have only defended the safer course, which is, well, safer. How can anyone find issue with that?
The BC actually makes the profession of faith a necessity for salvation:
1179. They who fail to profess their faith in the true Church in which they believe cannot expect to be saved while in that state, for Christ has said: “Whosoever shall deny me before men, I will also deny him before my Father who is in heaven.”
Those who have the ability to communicate and use the technologies available of the day, have a positive duty to profess their faith in Christ and His Church. I do so here on the internet, because that is where most people are to be found who have a care about their souls. There is a lot of people who couldn’t be bothered to care about their eternal destination. The internet consolidates those who have an interest in religious matters into one place. It is like a public square wherein we can discuss the faith. It is the enemy of religion who would want to silence the faithful’s voice in the public square.
But Speray goes on:
Using Robbins’ argument, the law does not say, in case of necessity, one may ignore the law (because it is no longer binding) and go publish whatever Catholic material without lawful authority. Perhaps Robbins was unaware of this law, but to be consistent with his argument, he must now shut down his website and stop publishing.
There is a distinction between claiming the right to consecrate bishops without a papal mandate and claiming the right to publish one’s profession of faith on the internet. The two cases are not equal, and so cannot be judged the same. The Sedevacantist acts according to a perceived necessity where there is none, whereas I act were there is a necessity, the necessity to profess the faith. The Sedevacantist grasps for a power which he does not currently have (Holy Orders), whereas I already have the power of my voice, which I simply exercise without the approval of my superior, because I don’t have one. The Sedevacantist acts against Divine law, insofar as canonical mission to preach, govern, and sanctify require mission from the Church, whereas I act in accordance with Divine law, insofar as I profess the faith and do not deny Christ before men. You see, the two cases are about as dissimilar as milk is to beer.
The power of a bishop to consecrate and ordain is an indelible mark of the priesthood that cannot be deprived. Even the Eastern Orthodox have valid priests and bishops this very day. The Code of Canon Law permits Catholics in danger of death to receive absolution from non-Catholic priests and bishops. Therefore, we have sacraments to help us no matter how much Robert Robbins denies Catholic theology and says no priests exist to administer the sacraments. There are literally tens of thousands of valid priests and bishops around the world.
When I said there were no priests I knew of in the world, was it not painfully obvious that I meant Catholic priests? The principle of charity in academics is that one assumes in his opponent’s argument the stronger position. Instead of doing so, Speray assumes not just the weaker position in my argument, but the asinine and absurd position in my argument. That only shows that Speray’s arguments for his position are so very weak, that he must contrive to make mine seem weaker than they are, even against a commonsense and charitable reading of them, in order to make his own seem stronger.
I wish to tie up this discussion with Speray with this. He said:
…if you will not consider the possibility that we are right, nothing will convince you. It’s like this with everything…
This is ironic, since I did consider the possibility that Sedevacantists were right when I was one. I received the sacraments from Fr. McGuire (now Bishop) at a Holiday Inn mission for about a year or so. My two oldest received their First Penance and First Holy Communion from him, and we were in communication with the then Bp. Dolan to receive Confirmation for my wife, elder children and myself. We were enrolled in the Brown Scapular, and Saint Gertrude the Great actually had a picture of the event on their website. We tithed regularly to SGG, and tuned in to the live-feed when we couldn’t go to the mission, which is a two-hour drive oneway. But Steve makes it seem like I’ve never entertained Sedevacantism in any serious sense, which is just flat-out false. My wife and I were very serious about being Sedevacantists, and we thought we found the Church, but, through the power of the daily rosary (which I confess I have slothfully neglected!) and through study, we came to the peaceful conclusion that the Church is in eclipse, and that, to be good and faithful Catholics today, we must profess the faith, pray the rosary, St. John’s mass, and perform spiritual communions and acts of perfect contrition. The sacraments of Sedevacantists are doubtfully valid and, by reason of Church law and Divine law, illicit. They are eclipsing Catholicism in their own way, though not as egregiously as the Novus Ordo. And so I must profess the faith against them, as well.
I don’t think that what I have come to understand and write about Sedevacantists is a fairytale. But this is.