Recognize and Resist Theology 101
As I have shown through a silly little production of mine below, the Recognize and Resist position is inherently non-Catholic. Check it out if you like dogmatically dead-serious coupled with cheekily humorous.
The Recognize and Resist theology is simple: if you don’t like what the current pope is saying, resist him. If you do like what he is saying, then give him your lay-approbation. The position is so very strikingly not Catholic, that I could probably end my days in writing on nothing else, making videos and talking into a microphone about nothing else but how absurd Recognize and Resist is.
Oftentimes I find myself producing content on CatholicEclipsed which focuses too much on Sedevacantists, in part because it is so reasonable to be a Sedevacantist, and the arguments against it are oftentimes difficult to understand–but even more difficult to refute, which is why they haven’t been at the time of this writing.
But I perhaps act imprudently, for there is a great number of very good people, very good would-be Catholics, who are taken in by the traditionalist Recognize and Resist position. The reasons for which have little to do with theology, but a lot to do with religious aesthetics, social value, networking, art and culture, and the veneer of everything Catholic. People are lulled into a doctrinal stupor and spiritual slumber by all those glittery vestments and gilded vessels, sacred polyphony, and beautified everything, that the thought just doesn’t occur that they are praying in communion with a heretic, which makes them heretics, or else complicit in the sin of communicatio in sacris.
I know, because I was one such Recognize and Resister. I attended a church in St. Louis which was venerable and gorgeous and magnificent. I listened to Michael Matt’s “Remnant Underground,” back when he actual believed that he was in the catacombs–remember the skulls and torches? I have been there and done that, which is why I speak with some authority on the position. I held the Recognize and Resist position for about a year or so, but then I started to learn what the Church actually teaches about the Roman Pontiff, and then and there I realized that I was resisting Catholicism.
The Copernican Revolution in the Church
The Recognize and Resist position is a trap which at once makes an individual either a heretic or a schismatic, but in either case not a Catholic. The R&R position says that we must recognize the man claiming to be pope to be pope, because the Church hasn’t deposed him–which itself is a heresy called conciliarism, but that we must also resist him when he teaches error. Now, the curious thing about R&R is that it is the exact reversal of the truth.
The papacy is the beginning point, the principle or rule of faith, whereas Recognize and Resist makes one’s own understanding and conscience the rule of faith. This is nothing else than the Copernican Revolution in the Catholic Church. Whereas in times past (say, prior to 1958 with the death of Pius XII), it was understood that the Ecclesia Docens was the active principle in the transmission of the faith. After the takeover of the Church’s hierarchy, however, that all changed. The laity took on a new role because the hierarchy, for all intents and purposes, was not Catholic anymore.
This change should have signaled to the players involved that the Church was in eclipse, and it did to a certain degree. A general falling away occurred during this “springtime” of the Church post-Second Vatican Council, a mass immigration away from the Church and into the world. The only problem was that those who thought they stayed within the Church were actually staying within the false church of Satan and the Antichrist.
Naturally, the people who did remain in what they believed to be the Church, had to come up with solutions to the inherent contradictions they were facing. Enter stage left the Traditionalists. These characters, from the pseudo-Catholic Archbishop Lefebvre to the pseudo-catholic lay-theologian Michael Davies, to the latter generation of Michael Matt and Co., each sought to redefine and rethink the papacy, not from a doctrinal perspective, necessarily, but from their actions and insinuations which would eventually undermine the very meaning of the papacy.
The end result of this gradual process was that the Catholic conscience was no longer formed by the Church but was formed by the individual in the pew. He had it within himself to determine what was and was not Catholic, because the ones who were supposed to do that for him, no longer existed. That is the plain fact and brief history of the Recognize and Resist phenomenon. The Catholic Church was unknown and unknowable, just as the phenomenal world of Kant. Man, like the sun, revolved around the earth or the Church. Now, the earth revolved around the sun. The Church revolved and was defined by the layman in the pew with the high school diploma or journalism degree.
The Rule of Faith as the Antithesis of the Copernican Revolution
To get back to sanity, to the ways of the world and how things actually work, we must first recognize that the man claiming to be pope is not. To fail in this first step will lead to the invariable loss of faith, because recognizing a man who is not the pope, who is not Catholic, but who must be our rule of faith, destroys the very principle or rule of our faith, and so our faith as well:
“If faith is necessary for all men at all times and in all places, and if a true saving faith demands a clear knowledge of what we have to believe, it is clear that an infallible teaching Church is an absolute necessity. Such a Church alone can speak to men of all classes and at all times; it alone can, by reason of its perpetuity and ageless character, meet every new difficulty by a declaration of the sound form of doctrine which is to be held. If the teaching of Christ and His Apostles is distorted, none but the Church can say ‘This is its true meaning, and not that; I know that it is as I say because the Spirit which assists me is One with the Spirit which rested on Him and on them’; the Church alone can say, ‘Christ truly rose from the tomb, and I know it, because I was there, and saw the stone rolled back’. The Church alone can tell us how we are to interpret the words ‘This is My Body’, for she alone can say, ‘He Who spoke those words speaks through me, He promised to be with me all days, He pledged Himself to safeguard me from error at all times,'” (Catholic Encyclopedia, “Rule of Faith”).
The Recognize and Resist position rejects the whole idea of the Church as a Rule of Faith, insofar as it rejects the notion of a proximate rule of faith, which is absolutely necessary as well:
“The word rule (Latin regula, Gr. kanon) means a standard by which something can be tested, and the rule of faith means something extrinsic to our faith, and serving as its norm or measure. Since faith is Divine and infallible, the rule of faith must be also Divine and infallible; and since faith is supernatural assent to Divine truths upon Divine authority, the ultimate or remote rule of faith must be the truthfulness of God in revealing Himself. But since Divine revelation is contained in the written books and unwritten traditions (Vatican Council, I, ii), the Bible and Divine tradition must be the rule of our faith; since, however, these are only silent witnesses and cannot interpret themselves, they are commonly termed “proximate but inanimate rules of faith”. Unless, then, the Bible and tradition are to be profitless, we must look for some proximate rule which shall be animate or living,” (Ibid).
Recognize and Resist adherents do not call themselves R&R but Traditionalists. They give their position away immediately, for as the the above teaches us, tradition is a silent or inanimate rule of faith and cannot be in itself the means by which our faith is formed. For that, we must rely on a living voice, a preaching and teaching voice. The traditionalists simply do not have this. What they have are teachers, yes, but such who claim that their spiritual superiors are at once heretics and yet hold offices in the Church–like Lefebvre, who denounced time and again the hierarchy of the Novus Ordo and yet recognized them as his superiors.
Does Home Alone Fall into the Same Fallacy as R&R?
Since, then, the faith requires a proximate and animate rule of faith by which it is to be regulated, how exactly does the Home Alone position not succumb to the same error as traditionalists in denying this absolute necessity? That is a very good question and counter-argument to the Home Alone position. The answer lies, however, in a distinction that I would like to borrow from our good friends, the adherents of the Cassiciacum thesis, or the Material-Formal Thesis–which I refute here.
The proximate and animate rule of faith is indeed necessary, but the question is in what sense is it necessary. The answer is that it is necessary according to the formal principle, that is, to the Magisterial Teaching Church, the hierarchy as such. In order for the hierarchy to be what it actually is, it must have a proximate and living rule of faith. The Teaching Church becomes for the Learning Church the efficient cause of the faith in the laity and this happens through the formal cause of the hierarchy, and principally through the Roman Pontiff:
“The term Church, in this connection, can only denote the teaching Church, as is clear from the passages already quoted from the New Testament and the Fathers. But the teaching Church may be regarded either as the whole body of the episcopate, whether scattered throughout the world or collected in an ecumenical council, or it may be synonymous with the successor of St. Peter, the Vicar of Christ. Now the teaching Church is the Apostolic body continuing to the end of time (Matthew 28:19-20); but only one of the bishops, viz., the Bishop of Rome, is the successor of St. Peter; he alone can be regarded as the living Apostle and Vicar of Christ, and it is only by union with him that the rest of the episcopate can be said to possess the Apostolic character (Vatican Council, Sess. IV, Prooemium). Hence, unless they be united with the Vicar of Christ, it is futile to appeal to the episcopate in general as the rule of faith,” (Ibid).
The hierarchy is formed by the Roman Pontiff, which also forms the faith of the laity as a rule of faith. Now the Home Alone position, like the Recognize and Resist position, does not believe that the hierarchy as such is a proximate and living rule of faith. The difference is, the R&R believe that Tradition is the means by which the faith of the individual is formed, whereas the Home Alone advocate must abandoned this idea altogether, because Tradition, being inanimate, cannot form the faith of the individual, because it is silent. Ultimately, for the R&R, it is not Tradition which is the rule of faith, but the individual’s own conscience, intellectual processing, and preference.
If Home Alone is to escape from this Copernican Revolution in the Church, whereby the rule of faith becomes something within the individual, instead of from the Church Herself, there must be an acknowledgment of the Home Alone position’s limitation. That limitation is that there is no longer a formal and efficient cause of the rule of faith left in the world. But hope is not lost, for there remains a material cause. Let me explain.
The material cause of a thing is that from which it comes to be what it is. The tired analogy of a potter’s clay is ready at hand, but let’s give a more applicable example. The Church is a Body, which exists as an amalgamation of believers in Christ, partaking of the same sacraments, and governed by their lawful pastors under one head the Roman Pontiff. As has been said, the Teaching Church is the formal cause of the rule of faith by which the faith of the laity is formed. Now the rule of faith, and the faith as such, is a discipline of belief and action, to which obedience is owed so as to be effective. Just so, is there the same relationship in a vessel, which analogy I bring out fully here.
The idea there was that the crew represent the laity. They are willing to serve, but they themselves are not commissioned officers (the hierarchy). They cannot issue orders or assign duties to carry out the mission of the vessel. Likewise, neither can the laity today. The commands of the officers are the formal and efficient causes of the crew’s obedience and discipline. But, insofar as the crew have shown up and are willing to subject themselves to an actually commissioned officer, it can be said that they have the material cause of obedience and discipline but not the formal or efficient. As a point in fact, the willing seaman also has the final cause within him which moves him to be on deck to await orders, whenever that may happen.
Conversely, the Recognize and Resist crowd have neither the formal and efficient causes of discipline and obedience (which is the rule of faith), nor do they have the material cause of obedience, because, as their name suggests, they disobey or resist the man they claim to be their captain. Were they on a real wartime vessel–which is what the Ark of the Church is–they would be given 33 lashings, and jettisoned overboard for the mutineers they are.
All that Home Alone Catholics–the only remaining real Catholics–must do is be willing to submit to the hierarchy when once it shows itself, or is reconstituted by a Divine act of God. Our standing orders are to be found in approved catechisms of our region, which we have no doubts as to their authenticity. We may not have officers to direct our actions or to explain our situation and guide us on the mission, but we have general directives by which we may know, in a general way, what we are to believe and do to arrive at a safe harbor.