E.H., Berlin, Germany
A. Although we would wish to assume that all men judge according to a `rightly formed conscience,' sad experience indicates the contrary.
First of all, it should be observed that not many people act according to a correctly formed conscience. In fact, the majority of people have falsified their consciences for so long, it is to be wondered if there are any people left in the world with a `rightly formed conscience.'
Most people are unable to make an objective judgment as to the truth or error of something, or as to the good or evil of something because conscience is a judgment of right reason. Or, as St. Thomas states: "Conscience is nothing else than the application of knowledge to some action" (Summa theol. Ia 2æ q.19, art.5).
So, generally speaking, `conscience' is defined as the immediate judgment of practical reason with respect to the character of individual acts as being permitted, commanded, or forbidden.
Much confusion and conflict could easily be avoided if a serious effort were made to find the necessary objective evidence before trying to make judgments.
Nothing could be more important in this world than objectivity in matters of religion. Certainly, objectivity is essential in any area of human activity. But nothing determines our existence after crossing the threshold of death than the information we have concerning this and other important questions.
Conscience is the immediate subjective and manifestative norm of moral conduct. If I judge something to be right or wrong, true or false, this is a subjective judgment. However, this `subjective' judgment (it is called `subjective' because the individual makes it) must conform to the objective general principles of morality.
These principles of morality are the natural guide of man in matters of moral conduct.
Man must follow the dictate of his conscience, whenever he is subjectively certain of this dictate. When conscience is certain and agrees with the objective norm of morality, there is little problem. But, a man's conscience may be based on an erroneous, false judgment. What is he to do then?
A conscience may be subjectively certain, but objectively erroneous. Example? Certainly. You are a Roman Catholic; you do not eat meat on Friday; you are working around your garden; you are hungry; it is Friday; you think it is Thursday; you make a ham sandwich with koshered bread (About the ham, I don't know); you sit down and start eating your ham sandwich; your neighbor who is a Calvinist stops by and sees you eating your ham sandwich and he knows that the date on the calendar indicates Friday!
Your Calvinist friend says to you: "I thought you were a Roman Catholic; but, you are eating meat on Friday. I suppose you changed your religion?"
You are surprised! "What do you mean?" you ask. "It's Thursday!" What is the truth here?
First of all, either you _ The Roman Catholic _ are right, or the Calvinist is right. Both cannot be right. Do you agree? Thank you! So, far you are honest. You have done no wrong _subjectively _ because you honestly thought it was Thursday.
But, actually, the day was Friday and objectively, Friday and Thursday are not the same day. Subjectively, you were in error because it was not Thursday; it was Friday. Though you may have been certain that it was Thursday, objectively, it was Friday.
A person must follow even the dictate of conscience when his conscience is subjectively certain but objectively erroneous. This principle should be clear.
If there is error, there is a false judgment. And, where there is a false judgment, there is ignorance of the true state of matters.
A person with an erroneous conscience mistakenly thinks an objectively evil action to be morally good or indifferent and thus either commanded or permitted. On the other hand, such a person might consider an objectively good or indifferent action to be morally evil and, consequently, forbidden.
Here we are dealing with a question of ignorance upon which the false judgment is made. Under the circumstances, this ignorance is considered invincible.
This is a term (namely, `invincible') that has been stretched more often than the truth! Generally speaking, `invincible ignorance' is a relative thing and its long duration is questionable.
By its very nature, certitude implies the exclusion of all fear of possible error. Such a state of mind can only exist when there is no doubt as to the truth of the judgment.
In the case of a conscience that is `certain but erroneous' the situation is as follows: The individual's practical judgment concerning the morality of an action is contrary to the objective truth of the law, but the individual's conscience is certain of the law as (mistakenly) understood.
In such a situation, the individual must follow the dictate of his certain conscience, even if it is erroneous.
To put is more clearly and precisely: A person must follow the dictate of a (subjectively) certain but (invincibly) erroneous conscience in all that it commands and forbids; otherwise he will commit an immoral act.
A person may follow the judgment of conscience in all that it declares to be permitted.
This does not mean that people may remain in ignorance and do whatever they wish as long as they mistakenly believe what they are doing is good.
This kind of mentality is only too common these days. There are those who speak of having `doubts' about some things; yet, they do not realize that they are lying to themselves. You see, if a person is in a true state of doubt, that person cannot act.
There is another common situation in which we find ourselves. It has to do with the matter of a conscience when there is a doubt. The doubt, of course, regards the goodness or evil of a contemplated action.
In such a situation, the practical reason is unable to reach a definite decision whether the action is good or evil. The fear of possible error is present in the mind while forced to make a decision.
The question to be resolved is this: May a person act while in a state of practical doubt as to the morality of the contemplated action? The same is true regarding making judgments as to the truth or falsity of a fact.
How can such a matter be resolved? First of all, the undeniable principle of correct action must be considered. This principle may be stated as follows: "Every person is bound to avoid, as much as lies in his power, everything that is morally wrong." This principle flows from the most fundamental precept: "Do good, avoid evil."
Whoever commits an act, while in the mental state of a practical, reasonable doubt as to its morality, violates the above-stated principle.
Now, by a `practical, reasonable doubt' is implied that reason cannot arrive at a definite judgment as to whether the contemplated act is morally good or evil: there are valid grounds for judging that the act is good; but there are also valid grounds for judging that the act is evil.
The act might be evil. But if the will chooses to perform an act which conscience declares might be evil, it practically desires to do what is evil, and thereby the will itself becomes evil. This is obvious from the fact that the will, in order to be and remain morally good, must desire only the good.
Conclusion: A person with a conscience in a state of `practical doubt' is not allowed to perform an act which might be evil.
What must that person do who has a doubtful conscience in order to act correctly? No, he must not simply ignore the doubt. He must resolve it. And, it should go without saying, that the doubt must be resolved honestly. Otherwise , such a person ends only lying to himself.
The doubt must be removed and certitude obtained.
How is this done? Absolute certitude is not necessary. In practical matters of conduct absolute certitude is rarely obtainable due to the perplexity of many moral problems and the limitations of the mind in its reasoning powers. Incidentally, this is the kind of certitude most "traditionalists" demand of others, while making rash judgments and ignoring reasonable doubts that would not otherwise permit them to act. We will return to this problem later.
It should be kept in mind that if absolute certitude were required for every action, an unbearable burden of inquiry would be placed upon the shoulders of honest men, because it is seldom possible for them to arrive at a conclusion which would exclude every kind of doubt.
The kind of certitude required and sufficient for the practical affairs of everyday moral conduct is the relative certitude which satisfies prudent people. This kind of certitude excludes prudent fear of error.
Doubt must be removed. This is done in one of two ways. Either directly or indirectly.
Doubt is removed directly by means of careful examination of the principles and facts involved in the case, so that a person is able to decide definitely that the contemplated action does or does not fall under a commanding or prohibiting general law.
Quite often a thorough study of the case in question will reveal the truth. But, not everyone is capable of making such an examination himself due to either a lack of the necessary knowledge or training, or due to the lack of other necessary means.
It is not unusual that even trained and experienced moralists disagree among themselves as to whether a concrete action is permitted or not.
In such an event, the practical doubt must be removed indirectly before one is allowed to act. After diligent research proves of no avail to remove the doubt, and when experienced moralists cannot agree, one may correctly conclude that the very existence of the law is positively doubtful and does not, therefore, bind in conscience. Consequently, the person is free to act.
All this foregoing information regarding conscience is very much a part of the answer to the question stated above.
It is important to understand the mechanism of the conscience. For, if we are dealing with `unconscionable' individuals, then any attempt to encourage the good and avoid the evil is doomed to failure. There is still great validity to the saying "A fool convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still."
It is a waste of time to try bringing someone in obvious error to the light of truth if that individual has determined himself not to accept any evidence conflicting with his position.
After all, it is this obstinacy of the will that starts wars; it foments strife and creates sects. Every sectarian is a person who has forced his conscience.
One does not lightly declare that a man perceived by the entire world, friends and foes alike, to be a Pope of the Roman Catholic Church to be a fraud, to be an antipope.
For, this is precisely the position taken by those who are labeled "sedevacantists." Are these individuals fools, madmen, correctly ridiculed and mocked by those who hold the opposite view? Truly, for anyone to lightly choose the position of the sedevacantist is to opt for social suicide.
But, history teaches us that it is always the very minute minority that is always right while the majority is always wrong. How many prophets did God raise up in Israel when almost everyone was going astray? Twelve billion? Twelve million? Twelve thousand? Twelve hundred? No. God raised up only twelve minor prophets and four major prophets!
And how many prophets of the New Testament did God raise up? Jesus chose twelve Apostles and the Holy Ghost chose four Evangelists.
So much for those who are always looking to numbers to give themselves credibility. Truth does not depend upon numbers; error, on the contrary, does.
It was said that conscience is a judgment of the practical intellect. It must, consequently, follow the principles, laws and methods which are necessary for the accurate and secure attainment of truth.
If we do not think logically, how can we act logically? And, to fail to act logically is to act not as a human being.
A thesis is only as strong as the arguments that defend it. In other words, a position has only that much merit as the evidence brought forth to defend it. Ridicule, persecution and brow beating are not the way to prove and establish a truth on irrefutable grounds. Sound reason applied to objective facts lead to truth.
You will notice that those who have no sound evidence for their position invariably resort to smear tactics, calumnies and even violence.
Those with truth on their side calmly present the facts from which are drawn certain conclusions. The evidence must be gathered, objectively evaluated and judgments made based on the evidence.
We have seen that conscience _ which we must all follow _ is a very practical act of judging. A judge's duty is to examine the evidence and pronounce upon it as to the guilt or non-guilt of the defendant. An honest judge seeks objective evidence.
If there is insufficient evidence, the case is dismissed. Unfortunately, people are not like that. If evidence is lacking, they will gladly manufacture some. There are even `professional witnesses' who get paid for lying. Some of them are called `lawyers,' while others are called `survivors.'
We will begin addressing the other parts of this question by pointing out the different fallacies, or, tricks the mind uses to avoid the truth and promote the lie.
Among the different fallacies in reasoning is that which is known as the Fallacy of Absolute and Qualified Statements. This is a very dangerous fallacy. It consists in arguing from a statement which is generally true to a specific case.
Thus, those who perceive themselves as loyal defenders of the Papacy always quote from the past, taking what is generally true and applying it to a specific case. For example, it is generally true that a Pope is a valid and legitimate successor of St. Peter. The general statement here is a moral universal which is true in a widely accepted sense, but it admits of exceptions. It is these exceptions that the mistaken defenders of antipopes fail to grasp. One would suppose that they did not wish to grasp the exception.
Those who disagree with the "sedevacantists" are forced to resort to false logic in order to defend their own position. More than just abdicating the right use of reason, they are forced to commit spiritual suicide by accepting heresies and are joined in the schism with their false leaders against the Roman Catholic Church.
They can quote all the texts of Councils, Popes, Doctors of the Church, etc. that they can find. They can never resolve their own present dilemma. Failing to come to grips with the truth, these types live in a constant interior malaise. This accounts for their violent hatred for sedevacantists.
They would rather embrace heresy than to admit their error. They would rather be a living contradiction than to humbly submit to the truth. They are forced by their blind pride to recognize publicly an authority which they know is not there. And, quite frankly, their scandalous acts of open and defiant disobedience to those whom they recognize as their ecclesiastical Superiors (Pope and Bishops) but do not obey promotes nothing more than a continuous attitude of anarchy.
Then, there are those whose knowledge of Catholic doctrine and discipline is very limited. In place of sound theological reasoning, these types find it more convenient to appeal to private revelations and the questionable visions of canonized saints.
A great one today is St. John Bosco. Next to him is Sr.Lucy. Now, it should not be construed that a close examination of what these holy persons have said detracts from their personal virtue. Private revelation must never be used as a substitute for public revelation which is called the "deposit of faith' and is that which constitutes the subject matter for the teaching authority of the Church.
One gentleman wrote, hoping to disprove the position of the sedevacantists that the "Orthodox Church accepts as its own the same 7 Eastern Ecumenical Councils as does the Roman Catholic Church. In as much as that is the case the following irrefutable facts with respect to said Councils should be taken into account: "
The writer then proceeded to enumerate several of his `facts' which he himself considers `irrefutable.' It would give us all great solace if only this man's proofs were acceptable as objective evidence for the case at hand.
First of all, the bored reader might feel a of spark of curiosity rousing him to attention by the following observation:
The Orthodox Church is a Church in heresy and schism with the Roman Catholic Church. The Orthodox Church , or, as it is often called, the "Eastern Church", went into schism and subsequent heresy when the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Caerularius, built up a quarrel with the pope out of protests against the eating of things strangled, the custom of fasting on Saturdays, the omission of the Alleluia during Lent, the use of unleavened bread for the Eucharist, and other Latin practices. In all, there were thirty-three distinct objections.
On the strength of these objections, the Patriarch of Constantinople decreed the closing of the Latin churches in Constantinople.
Pope Leo IX sent Cardinal Frederick (the future Pope Stephen X) and Cardinal Humbert to negotiate with Caerularius. Their efforts were in vain. Consequently, on July 16, 1054 A.D., they entered the church of Santa Sophia, as service was about to begin, and laid upon the altar a papal bull excommunicating Caerularious and two Eastern bishops. Michael Caerularius, in turn, excommunicated the pope
Historians have pointed out that the rupture attributed to Caerularius was only the completion of a work that really dated back as far as the fourth century.
Thereafter the Church of Constantinople with the other Oriental Churches, formed a group known as the "Orthodox Eastern Church," in which the patriarchate of Constantinople possessed a certain precedence.
Since the schism from Rome, the Orthodox Church does not accept any Councils since that break. Therefore, being outside the Church, members of the Orthodox Church are not competent to judge in matters dealing with the Roman Catholic Church.
The short list of quotes from the Fathers and Popes of the Roman Catholic Church prior to the Eastern Schism lack any relevancy to what is happening today.
There is no disagreement with the statements brought forward. They are true and correct. However, the quoted sources merely prove that the Church has always believed in the papacy. This, of course, is what the sedevacantists also firmly hold.
It would have been better if the writer were able to understand the real issue. The sedevacantist does not deny the Papacy nor does he reject the valid and legitimate successors of St. Peter.
The sedevacantist would say "Amen" with anyone who would quote the Councils correctly and in context. One such quote dealt with an event at the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.). The bishops at this Council, it is said, "responded to the reading of Pope Leo's dogmatic letter to his representative, Bishop Flavian, with the unanimous outburst of faith: `Peter hath spoken through the mouth of Leo.'"
Pope Leo was a valid and legitimate Pope, a true Vicar of Jesus Christ. He did not teach nor promote heresy either directly or indirectly.
The same is true for Pope Celestine (431 A.D.). The Council of Ephesus called Pope Celestine (442-32), the "guardian of the Faith, who teaches right doctrine because he is the successor of Blessed Peter the Apostle, the head of the whole Faith, and the head of the Apostles."
Again, the sedevacantist is in agreement with the above statement taken in its proper context. It should be noted, however, that in the above statement the term `head of the Faith' and `head of the Apostles' is to be understood in its relative sense and not absolutely. Otherwise, the implication would sever Jesus Christ from His Church as the Invisible Head.
The writer has brought out these texts from history, but he obviously suggests that the sedevacantist rejects the papacy and legitimate popes. Which, of course, is completely false.
For example, the sedevacantist does not accept the first antipope of history, St. Hippolytus (217-235). With the Church, the sedevacantist would not accept any subsequent antipopes: Novatian (251), Felix II (355-358), Ursinus (366-367), Eulalius (418-422), Lawrence (498; 501-505), Dioscorus (530), Theodore (687), Paschal (687), Constantine (767-769), Philip (768), John (844), Anastasius (855), Christopher (903-904), Boniface VII (974; 984-985), John XVI (997-998), Gregory (1012), Sylvester III (1045), Benedict X (1058-1059), Honorius II (1061-1072), Clement III (1084-1100), Theodoric (1099-1118), Albert (1102), Sylvester IV (1105-1111), Gregory VIII (1118-1121), Celestine II (1124), Anacletus II (1130-1138), Victor IV (1159-1164), Paschal III (1164-1168), Callistus III (1168-1178), Innocent III (1179-1180), Nicholas V (1328-1330), Clement VII (1378-1394), Benedict XIII (1394-1423), Alexander V [Pisa] (1409-1410), John XXIII [Pisa] (1410-1415), Clement VIII (1423-1429), Benedict XIV (1425),Felix V (1440-1449).
Since the antipope Felix V (1440-1449), there were no more antipopes until the death of Pope Pius XII. Since his death, the Roman Catholic Church has suffered under four antipopes: John XXIII, Paul VI, John-Paul I and the currently `reigning' antipope John-Paul II.
These last four, and especially John XXIII, Paul VI and John-Paul II were heretics before their invalid election. Subsequent "Cardinals" from the antipope John XXIII were invalidly elected since they were elevated to the rank of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church by a false Pope.
One cannot give what one does not have. Heretics before, during or after entering upon any office in the Roman Catholic Church are already excommunicated and cease to be members of the Church.
The kind reader will clearly observe that the position of the sedevacantist is quite different from the calumnious and/or rash judgments made concerning him.
The sedevacantist is a Roman Catholic (unless he has become an heretic and schismatic on other grounds) sincerely following his informed conscience. He calls `heresy' by its true name; he does not seek independence from legitimate authority as so many alleged "traditionalists" do.
(To be continued in May)
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