Sedevacantists are Legion

by Robert Robbins

This is Just a Dream

It is perhaps one of the greatest glories as well one of the ugliest blights on Catholic culture that the man of the faith is ever engaged in controversy and argument. The battle of the argument is as glorious as any battle of war, though also as ugly as war. A good argument is bloodless as in the case of the Sacrifice of the Mass, yet it nevertheless is very much a duel to the death–the death of the old man.

First, I make a distinction between argument as such and mere quarrel. What almost always happens, either in debates online in the comments, or at one’s family reunion dinner table, is not argument in the strict sense at all. It is fighting, which is usually why the women of the table, or the women of the combox, don’t stick around to watch and listen. The fight arises out of a misunderstanding of what argument actually is, which is not trying to disprove an opponent’s position, but rather trying to get an opponent to agree with one’s own. But in either event, whether one is merely trying to disprove another or get another to approve of one’s own, here is the most important point about argument: unless both agree on the principles of the subject, there is no point arguing, because there can be no argument.

The object of argument, as the object of war, is peace or agreement. When an argument must devolve to the status of disarmament, it is probable that the reason for doing so was because there was no agreement struck in the intellect. The most likely reason for doing so was because either of the two combatants were too tired or fed up with fighting in futility. This invariably happens, not because the subject matter cannot be resolved or reduced to primary truths all may agree on, but because such truths are almost never arrived at because of human frailty, as in the case of sin, which is weakness in the will, or in the case of ignorance, which is weakness in the intellect.

If the former frailty, that of a defective will, is the issue, then I would urge anyone who suspects this to be the case to withdraw from the argument. The reason is that, no matter how strong a case one makes for one’s own position, the one whose will is sinful, or which is not moved by the good, is not to be engaged with, because that one’s will will never be convinced of the truth, because its motive principle is something other than the good (truth as it is in the mode of willing, as opposed to thinking). St. Augustine, quoting Isaias, says, “Unless you believe, you will never understand.” If I may be so bold, I would add, “And unless you love, you will never believe.”

But, if the one with whom you argue–as opposed to merely quarrel–is of sound will but who lacks understanding, then there is hope that peace is on the horizon. The question becomes, how do you know when one is merely ignorant and not haughty? The answer is easy enough. When you present that one with a proposition to which any reasonable man would assent, and your interlocutor does so assent, then you’ve found yourself one of good will, and it is time to proceed to the next stage in the argument.

But, in my experience–I’ve had such terrible experiences–it so seldom happens this way, because there are so few good men out there with whom to argue. I think that in this age of the Great Apostasy, what is perhaps so striking, is that man falls out of favor with God, not so much because he doesn’t love God or his neighbor, but because he doesn’t love the truth:

“…And in all seduction of iniquity to them that perish; because they receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. Therefore God shall send them the operation of error, to believe lying: That all may be judged who have not believed the truth, but have consented to iniquity,” (2Thess. 2:10-11).  

So, the next point to make is, what is the truth and how does one love the truth? The truth is, according to Aquinas, and commonsense, a thought which is equal to what is. Truth is an intellectual mode of being, which is to say it is found in an intellect. But, unless we are God, truth is not caused in the intellect but in the world of what is. Perhaps this is a little dense for some, so I will give an example. If I have the thought that the grass in my yard is green, but, in fact, the grass is my yard is brown (as it presently is because I think a sorcerer cursed it), then my thought is false and not true. However much I would will my grass to be green–and however much I pay the weed company to make it so–doesn’t change the fact that it is brown. If I insist otherwise, even against my senses, that my grass is green and not brown, then I do not have a love of the truth, but rather a love of a dream which does not exist, in other words, a love of lying.

Now let’s up the ante shall we? Aquinas teaches that theological conclusions are more certain on account of their source being Divine revelation, which cannot err, as compared with merely human science, whose source is the senses, which can err. The Baltimore Catechism is a compendium of conclusions of the science of theology, and as such, commands our assent for its truthfulness absolutely more than the authority of our senses command us to believe our grass is green, or in my case brown. In a word, the BC is truth, and we must love it, believe it, even before we understand it. Because without loving, there’s no believing, and without believing, there’s no understanding.

So, as an example of something we should love, believe, and (with grace) come to understand, let’s look at a few teachings found in the lesson On the Attributes and Marks of the Church:

517. An attribute is any characteristic or quality that a person or thing may be said to have. All perfections or imperfections are attributes.

518. A mark is a given and known sign by which a thing can be distinguished from all others of its kind. Thus a trademark is used to distinguish the article bearing it from all imitations of the same article.

There are any number of sects out there claiming to be the Catholic Church. The BC teaches us certain truths by which we may distinguish what is and is not the Church. We must be guided by these certain truths to have certitude that we belong to the true Church of Christ. Now I call these truths of the BC those principles all must agree on before any argument may be had. So, for instance, if you find yourself arguing (or trying to argue anyway) with, say, a Sedevacantist who believes that the CMRI, SGG, SSPV, MHTS, etc. are clergy making up the remnant Church, then all you need do is ask your interlocutor whether he accepts and assents to all that the BC teaches. If he says yes, then game on! Ask him if he agrees with the following:

519. We know that the Church must have the four marks and three attributes usually ascribed or given to it from the words of Christ given in the Holy Scripture and in the teaching of the Church from its beginning.

520. The Church cannot have the four marks without the three attributes, because the three attributes necessarily come with the marks and without them the marks could not exist.

521. Both marks and attributes are necessary in the Church, for the marks teach us its external or visible qualities, while the attributes teach us its internal or invisible qualities. It is easier to discover the marks than the attributes; for it is easier to see that the Church is one than that it is infallible.

522. The attributes of the Church are three: authority, infallibility, and indefectibility.

548. The Church has four marks by which it may be known: it is One; it is Holy; it is Catholic; it is Apostolic.

I am sure at this point, your interlocutor is getting a little hot under the collar, because he knows what questions are coming next, which need hardly be asked, but I will just for the sake of thoroughness: I ask, do the Sedevacantist groups have the three attributes of authority, infallibility, and indefectibility, by which the four marks of one, holy, catholic, and apostolic exist, and by which you or I am to know that that Church is the Church of Christ? Perhaps your interlocutor couldn’t say if the groups he thinks are Catholic have the attributes, because they are not easily known. You might ask, as it seems the BC encourages you to ask, whether the groups your interlocutor thinks are Catholic are one in the sense the BC defines:

549. The Church is One because all its members agree in one faith, are all in one communion, and are all under one head.

550. It is evident that the Church is one in government, for the faithful in a parish are subject to their pastors, the pastors are subject to the bishops of their dioceses, and the bishops of the world are subject to the Pope.

At this point, I am sure your heated interlocutor will now starting blathering about epikeia and cessation of law and the common good, etc., but to no purpose, since, as important as the care of souls and the sacraments are, these considerations are secondary or irrelevant altogether as to how we know what and where the Catholic Church is. There are any number of good-doer groups out there calling themselves Christian, or even Catholic. The good Lord knows their multiplicity. But the Catholic Church is one, and no matter how much we may want the grass to be green, or our favored little sect to be one, the truth is, the lawn is brown and the Sedevacantists are legion.

I could go on and show how the Sedes are not holy, catholic, and apostolic either, but perhaps we’ll save that for another post. I leave you–and your interlocutor who has probably blocked you by now, or stormed out of the combox or dining room, with this slightly modified lesson from the BC:

Q. 571. How do you show that [Sedevacantist] Churches have not the marks of the true Church?

A. [Sedevacantist] Churches have not the marks of the true Church, because:
   1. They are not one either in government or faith; for they have no chief head, and they profess different beliefs;
   2. They are not holy, because their doctrines are founded on error and lead to evil consequences;
   3. They are not catholic or universal in time, place or doctrine. They have not existed in all ages nor in all places, and their doctrines do not suit all classes;
   4. They are not apostolic, for they were not established for hundreds of years after the Apostles, and they do not teach the doctrines of the Apostles.

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