Apparent Aporia in the CatholicEclipsed Position

There is a growing sense of the tension between holding the view that there will always be a Church hierarchy until the end of time, based upon a teaching from the Vatican Council, as well as numerous doctors and theologians, and the fact that we are faced with from day to day, namely, that there is no shepherd and teacher to whom we can look or by whom to be governed and sanctified. There are those who argue that it is dogmatic to believe this, that there will always be shepherds until the end of time, but I question, not only that it is dogmatic so stated, but that it is true so understood.

The only dogmatic source for the teaching that I can find, is found in the fourth session of the Vatican Council, which Steve Speray happily quotes ad infinitum:

“So then, just as he sent apostles, whom he chose out of the world , even as he had been sent by the Father, in like manner it was his will that in his church there should be shepherds and teachers until the end of time.”

This, as the story goes, solidifies the teaching that there will always be shepherds and teachers until the end of time, which, in practice means that there will always be bishops. There are a number of issues with concluding that this is a dogmatic teaching. For starters, the text doesn’t say that. Rather, what it does dogmatically teach is that God willed that there should be shepherds and teachers until the end of time, not that there in fact would be.

To this idea of God’s will I will return momentarily, but I want to briefly discuss the text above, but quote it in its full context:


“Pius, bishop, servant of the servants of God, with the approval of the sacred council, for an everlasting record. The eternal shepherd and guardian of our souls [37], in order to render permanent the saving work of redemption, determined to build a church in which, as in the house of the living God, all the faithful should be linked by the bond of one faith and charity. Therefore, before he was glorified, he besought his Father, not for the apostles only, but also for those who were to believe in him through their word, that they all might be one as the Son himself and the Father are one [38]. So then, just as he sent apostles, whom he chose out of the world [39], even as he had been sent by the Father [40], in like manner it was his will that in his church there should be shepherds and teachers until the end of time. In order, then, that the episcopal office should be one and undivided and that, by the union of the clergy, the whole multitude of believers should be held together in the unity of faith and communion, he set blessed Peter over the rest of the apostles and instituted in him the permanent principle of both unities and their visible foundation. 

Upon the strength of this foundation was to be built the eternal temple, and the church whose topmost part reaches heaven was to rise upon the firmness of this foundation [41]. And since the gates of hell trying, if they can, to overthrow the church, make their assault with a hatred that increases day by day against its divinely laid foundation, we judge it necessary, with the approbation of the sacred council, and for the protection, defence and growth of the catholic flock, to propound the doctrine concerning the institution, permanence and nature of the sacred and apostolic primacy, upon which the strength and coherence of the whole church depends. 

This doctrine is to be believed and held by all the faithful in accordance with the ancient and unchanging faith of the whole church. Furthermore, we shall proscribe and condemn the contrary errors which are so harmful to the Lord’s flock.”

The strength and foundation of the Church is, of course, the Rock of Peter. The Pope is the principle of unity of the episcopal office, and through the unity of the bishops in communion with the pope, the faithful are united and one as well, which also results in the visibility of the Church–because oneness is a mark by which the Church is known. As the BC teaches us:

547. These attributes are found in their fullness in the Pope, the visible Head of the Church, whose infallible authority to teach bishops, priests, and people in matters of faith or morals will last to the end of the world.

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.

It is the foundation of the Church in the Pope which will last to the end of the world. Teachers and Shepherds will not always be until the end of the world without the Pope. The clear teaching above in the dogmatic constitution of the Church of Christ is that Peter constitutes the unity we are to look for in the Church by which it is known. It is false to say that we must seek for the bishop in the woods to know where the Church is, unless that bishop is the Bishop of Rome, though he be in exile: “Ubi Petrus, ibi ergo ecclesia,” that is, where Peter is, there must be the Church, as St. Ambrose says, not, “Where the bishops are, there is the Church.”

But Sedevacantists, or those Traditionalists who are leaning that way–like those in views espoused at the WM Review–do not seem to be overly concerned with finding where Peter is, only where the bishops are. As John Lane writes:

“We do not believe that the Church has a hierarchy because we have read about this or that “good bishop;” nor do we base our theories on what might appear to be far-fetched theories about unknown bishops. Rather, we think that the Church’s hierarchy must always exist in act, because this is what we are taught in the Church’s theology. Possible solutions are posited after we have grasped this necessity of faith. This possibility of such solutions shows that we have no need to deny the existence of the hierarchy; and even if one or more of these solutions are proved to be false or impossible, then the situation has not changed one iota, in dogmatic and logical terms.”

In order for the hierarchy to exist in act, there must be a pope to actualize it. I am not sure of the possible solutions Mr. Lane is referring to here, but those solutions which I know of, namely, the Material-Formal thesis (which you can read the refutation of here), which says that the hierarchy does exist but only materially (that is the hierarchy are designated but have no authority) does not exist by definition in act, because it lacks the form of authority to bring it into act–I apologize for the philosophical terminology, but Mr. Lane used it and so I have to, as well. All act means is being really what it is.)

Then there is the bishop in the woods (or behind the Iron Curtain) theory. Yet this theory is also contradictory for the reason that, insofar as the bishop is in hiding–even if he be the Bishop of Rome in exile and so able to constitute the Church in his own power and office–it is obvious that he isn’t shepherding or teaching anyone, since he is hidden. Thus, we are back to the problem of an invisible Church, even assuming the existence of a bishop in the woods.

Then there’s the theory that Steve Speray espouses, which I have already addressed elsewhere. But it is to this statement of his that I would like to speak:

“The home-aloner has to appeal to a theory with no evidence to maintain the existence of the Church. The problem is that if the Church exists only in the hope that some bishops exist somewhere even though no one knows where or how, the devil has ultimately won anyway. The gates of hell have prevailed, because the will of Christ and His purpose in having shepherds and teachers are ultimately thwarted. Christ left us shepherds and teachers for the benefit of the whole Church only to be incapacitated and our benefit effectively lost. The Church is effectively incapacitated throughout the whole world, which is exactly opposite to the will of Christ and His promise.”

I agree with Steve that, if we maintain that the Vatican Council teaches that there must always be shepherds and teachers in the world, then we appeal to a theory with no evidence. But, that is why I never believed that there must always be shepherds and teachers in the Church, not because (as Mr. Lane would say) I do not see them, but because the Church never taught this dogmatically. What it did teach was that:

1. God willed that there should be shepherds and teachers until the end of time.

2. The shepherds and teachers would be unified by the Roman Pontiff.

3. The faithful would be one with their shepherds and teachers under the Roman Pontiff.

The curious thing is, that Sedevacantists get their name, not from sede vacante of episcopal sees but from the Apostolic See itself. And yet, they insist upon the teaching of the Vatican Council, when this teaching completely destroys any of their claims to be shepherds and teachers, precisely because the Chair of Peter is empty.

So, here we are. We have no pope to unify or even confirm bishops. No one knows either where a true bishop is or, what’s more important, where the true Vicar of Christ is. Yet there is this teaching from an ecumenical council (dogmatic and infallible) which teaches that God wills that there should be shepherds and teachers until the end of time. Where might we look for a solution to the question and seeming contradiction between the evidence of our experience and Church teaching? Perhaps the answer lies in what the Council means by “willed.”

In the Summa Theologiae, Part I, Question 19, Article 6. “Whether the will of God is always fulfilled,” St. Thomas Aquinas answers the question in the positive, but not without making distinctions. The first distinction to be made is between the universal will and the particular will:

“The will of God must needs always be fulfilled. In proof of which we must consider that since an effect is conformed to the agent according to its form, the rule is the same with active causes as with formal causes. The rule in forms is this: that although a thing may fall short of any particular form, it cannot fall short of the universal form. For though a thing may fail to be, for example, a man or a living being, yet it cannot fail to be a being. Hence the same must happen in active causes. Something may fall outside the order of any particular active cause, but not outside the order of the universal cause; under which all particular causes are included: and if any particular cause fails of its effect, this is because of the hindrance of some other particular cause, which is included in the order of the universal cause. Therefore an effect cannot possibly escape the order of the universal cause. Even in corporeal things this is clearly seen. For it may happen that a star is hindered from producing its effects; yet whatever effect does result, in corporeal things, from this hindrance of a corporeal cause, must be referred through intermediate causes to the universal influence of the first heaven. Since, then, the will of God is the universal cause of all things, it is impossible that the divine will should not produce its effect. Hence that which seems to depart from the divine will in one order, returns into it in another order; as does the sinner, who by sin falls away from the divine will as much as lies in him, yet falls back into the order of that will, when by its justice he is punished” (Emphasis added).

I draw your attention to the celestial image, because it is very much instructive and apropos to our question and the crisis in the Church. What is the Sun but a star, and an eclipse but a hindrance? To bring it home, God wills that there shall be a Sun which gives off its light until the end of time (the Shepherds and Teachers in the Church), and yet an eclipse happens which hinders the light. But the eclipse (the Great Apostasy and Reign of the Antichrist) is cause of the universal influence of the first heaven (God). Therefore, God both wills that the Sun should shine but also that it should be in eclipse, just as God wills that there should be Shepherds and Teachers in the world until the end of time, but that these are hindered from showing forth their light.

Next, St. Thomas makes an argument for the will, not according to itself, but in relation to antecedent and consequent conditions to it:

Objection 1. It seems that the will of God is not always fulfilled. For the Apostle says (1 Timothy 2:4): “God will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” But this does not happen. Therefore the will of God is not always fulfilled.

Reply to Objection 1. The words of the Apostle, “God will have all men to be saved,” etc. can be understood in three ways.

Thirdly, according to Damascene (De Fide Orth. ii, 29), they are understood of the antecedent will of God; not of the consequent will. This distinction must not be taken as applying to the divine will itself, in which there is nothing antecedent nor consequent, but to the things willed.

“To understand this we must consider that everything, in so far as it is good, is willed by God. A thing taken in its primary sense, and absolutely considered, may be good or evil, and yet when some additional circumstances are taken into account, by a consequent consideration may be changed into the contrary. Thus that a man should live is good; and that a man should be killed is evil, absolutely considered. But if in a particular case we add that a man is a murderer or dangerous to society, to kill him is a good; that he live is an evil. Hence it may be said of a just judge, that antecedently he wills all men to live; but consequently wills the murderer to be hanged. In the same way God antecedently wills all men to be saved, but consequently wills some to be damned, as His justice exacts. Nor do we will simply, what we will antecedently, but rather we will it in a qualified manner; for the will is directed to things as they are in themselves, and in themselves they exist under particular qualifications. Hence we will a thing simply inasmuch as we will it when all particular circumstances are considered; and this is what is meant by willing consequently. Thus it may be said that a just judge wills simply the hanging of a murderer, but in a qualified manner he would will him to live, to wit, inasmuch as he is a man. Such a qualified will may be called a willingness rather than an absolute will. Thus it is clear that whatever God simply wills takes place; although what He wills antecedently may not take place.”

Thus we see that, if the teaching of the Vatican Council is taken according to its antecedent conditions, what God wills may not take place, because the conditions which are consequent to His will are not considered as restricting the application of the act of His will. Further, the argument that is made based upon the necessary and volatile modes of speech in my recent post is vindicated, insofar as we understand that an antecedent will is a kind of desire or wish and not an absolute willing with all things considered. As St. Thomas says, “Such a qualified will may be called a willingness rather than an absolute will.”

So, the question is, is the teaching from the Vatican Council that God willed that there always be Shepherds and Teachers until the end of time an antecedent willing or a consequent willing? Is it a willing with qualification or a simple willing? What justifies the interpretation that God is willing here simply and consequently (taking into account everything that would unfold in the course of time) and not willing antecedently to any condition in time? I believe that we have ample evidence that the teaching of the Vatican Council is of God’s willing that there should always be Shepherds and Teachers according to His willingness rather than to His absolute will.

This would solve the apparent aporia–logical or theoretical impasse–of the CatholicEclipsed position, and, actually quite fortuitously, give the very name of this website substantial ground upon which to stand. The Church is indeed in eclipse. God so wills that the Church should shine out its divine light, and yet we know that, just as there are solar eclipses which hinder the light, so the Great Apostasy and reign of the Antichrist has obscured the Church. As akaCatholic even acknowledges:

It is often said, and for very good reason, that the Holy Roman Catholic Church, she who “enjoys perfect and perpetual immunity from error and heresy” (cf Quas Primas 22) is somehow in eclipse.

As analogies go, this one has an impeccable pedigree. In the gospels, Our Lord says:

And immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light and the stars shall fall from heaven and the powers of heaven shall be moved. (Matthew 24:29)

In his commentary on Sacred Scripture, the eminent biblical scholar Fr. George Haydock cites St. Austin (d. 604) who taught: “By the sun is meant Jesus Christ, by the moon, the Church, which will appear as involved in darkness.”

I am not interested in trying to have the best theory to solve the crisis. All I care about is satisfying my sanity and my Catholic conscience. I believe that the explanations reached thus far on CatholicEclipsed do both, that is, keep us reasonable and faithful. The theories thus far provided: 1. The Pope, Non-Pope Thesis of Sanborn; 2. The Redefined Pastors Theory of Speray; and 3. The Shepherds and Teachers in the Woods idea by nameless Home Alone Catholics, have all been proven false and violate either faith or reason or both. The CatholicEclipsed theory may be called the Denying the Consequent Will Theory, which means that I deny God willed consequently that there should be Shepherds and Teachers until the end of time. The name has the added benefit that if someone where to disagree and say, “I affirm consequently that God willed…” I could stop them there and shout, “Fallacy!” And have my laugh.