Note well, the principles laid out below apply when dealing with LEGITIMATE authority. Even under legitimate authority, we have an obligation to reject unjust acts. Now, if the authority would happen to be illegitimate, say, the henchmen of an antipope, issuing unjust acts… then we get into an area where disobedience clearly becomes a duty under pain of sin. More on that later.
The following is reprinted here with permission.
True Obedience vs. False Obedience
As many of you know, I have blogged and podcasted on the following chart many times. If you remember, I usually put the Magisterium as part of “Ecclesial Law” at level 2. However, this was wrong. I have recently been corrected and told that both Scripture and the Magisterium are considered to both constitute Divine Law at level 1 as now seen here:
1. Divine Law ➡️ Eternal Law Found in Scripture and Magisterium
2. Ecclesial Law ➡️ Mutable Rules Set by Rome
3. Particular Law ➡️ Mutable Rules Set by Local Ordinary (bishop)
What is included in the Magisterium?
Not only does “the Magisterium” include ex-cathedra statements of Popes and anathema statements in dogmatic councils, but it turns out that it also includes any topic upon which the Church Fathers (in the early Church) spoke unanimously on any single topic of Scripture, doctrinal or moral:
Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, It decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall,–in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, –wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church,–whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures,–hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; even though such interpretations were never (intended) to be at any time published. Contraveners shall be made known by their Ordinaries, and be punished with the penalties by law established.—Trent, 4th Session, 2nd decree
But, since the rules which the holy Synod of Trent salutarily decreed concerning the interpretation of Divine Scripture in order to restrain impetuous minds, are wrongly explained by certain men, We, renewing the same decree, declare this to be its intention: that, in matters of faith and morals pertaining to the instruction of Christian Doctrine, that must be considered as the true sense of Sacred Scripture which Holy Mother Church has held and holds, whose office it is to judge concerning the true understanding and interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures; and, for that reason, no one is permitted to interpret Sacred Scripture itself contrary to this sense, or even contrary to the unanimous agreement of the Fathers.—Vat I, Chapter II
Why is Ecclesial Law and Particular Law listed as “Mutable Rules” in the above chart?
Mutable means changeable. The proof that ecclesial law and particular law does not refer to the highest level of Divine Revelation (Eternal Law) is precisely because the new code of Canon Law released under Pope John Paul II in 1983 says at the very beginning of the code that ecclesial law and particular law come into effect at three months and one month, respectively:
– Can. 8 §1. Universal ecclesiastical laws are promulgated by publication in the official commentary, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, unless another manner of promulgation has been prescribed in particular cases. They take force only after three months have elapsed from the date of that issue of the Acta unless they bind immediately from the very nature of the matter, or the law itself has specifically and expressly established a shorter or longer suspensive period (vacatio). §2. Particular laws are promulgated in the manner determined by the legislator and begin to oblige a month after the day of promulgation unless the law itself establishes another time period.—1983 Code of Canon Law
What does three months or one month in canon law have to do with anything?
If you have three months to get on board with an ecclesial law (a mutable law of Rome) and one month to get on board with a particular law (a mutable law of your diocese) then this proves right there that these do not refer to the commandments. Why not? Because you do not have three months or one month to get on board with the 10 commandments! In other words, even the new code of canon law does not pretend to trump the 10 Commandments of God as found in the Scriptures and interpreted infallibly in the Magisterium. Those are immediate. You do not have “three months” to get on board to keeping the 10 commandments. You must keep them as soon as you learn about them (or rather, they are written on the human heart, cf. Jer 31 and Rom 1.) In fact, Divine Revelation goes way beyond what is even written on the human heart. The Magisterium includes many more things than just ex-cathedra statements of Popes. It includes everything the early Church Fathers agree on in their interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures. These things are infallible. Thus, particular law and ecclesial law can never trump the Scriptures or the Magisterium.
So are you saying there’s a rub between Divine Law and Particular Law?
Hopefully not. Hopefully, there is no rub between Divine Law and Particular Law. But if there is, it’s not my fault. It’s the fault of bishops who don’t believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. So, if there is a contradiction between what the Bible and your bishop tells you, you owe obedience first to the Sacred Scriptures and Magisterium on matters of articulated faith and morals of the Catholic Church. At a very, very distant third you owe obedience to particular law.
What would an example of such a contradiction be?
First, an example of a valid decision of a bishop at a local level: “The Lenting fasting is relaxed on St. Patrick’s day in this diocese.” This fits the description of a mutable rule (particular law) that a bishop has legitimate authority to decide in his own diocese. I believe many bishops on the East Coast made different decisions on St. Patrick’s in the 19th century depending on how many Irish were in the diocese. That’s totally fine. However, a bishop saying “You can’t baptize babies because of a coronavirus” is in direct violation of the Bible. Thus, it must be disobeyed. Why? Because Christ admonishes his ministers thus: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.—Mt 28:18b-20a
But who is to decide what is an unjust order?
This is why I have included the chart at the beginning of this blog post. We obey the Bible and the Magisterium on matters of faith, doctrine, morals and liturgy (Divine Law which is eternal.) We obey Rome on smaller rules of ecclesial law (which we have a few months to get on board with) and we obey our local ordinary (bishop) on the local issues of particular law as seen in the above definition in the new Code of Canon Law from 1983.
In blue collar terms, we’re obedient to the Bible and Fathers on matters of salvation and obedient to our bishop on smaller rules that makes a diocese chug along. But once we cross wires on the three levels (Divine Law, Ecclesial Law, Particular Law) then we are moving rapidly into the realm of false obedience. Let me add here: The fact that the Magisterium is under “Divine Law” (and not “Ecclesial Law” where I had had it for years in previous blog posts and podcasts) proves my point even more: No living bishop can trump the Church Fathers on matters of doctrine. In fact, St. Robert Bellarmine even applied this to the Papacy: “Just as it is lawful to resist the pontiff who attacks the body, similarly is it lawful to resist the pope who attacks the soul or disturbs the secular order, and, even more so, the pope who tries to destroy the Church.”—St. Robert Bellarmine, De Romano Pontifice. (Notice this refers to what the faithful are to do with a a validly–elected bad Pope, not to mention what St. Bellarmine would suggest what the faithful are to do with a heretical and invalidly–elected antipope.)
Why do people cross wires on Divine Law and Ecclesial Law in calling for obedience?
Because it’s easier! Some lazy Catholics like to claim hard-core obedience to bishops when the dispense of Mass because of a flu. Little do they know that no bishop on earth can dispense with the commandments of God. (Hence, this would be a crossing of wires of level 1 Divine Law with level 3 particular law.) Indeed, once a cleric or layman crosses wires on these three levels (see again the chart at the beginning of this blog) he is moving from true obedience to false obedience, and his soul is in danger.
What is the point of this blog post?
The only point of this blog post is to say that no bishop or pope can change the Catholic faith. Unfortunately, such blogs have to be long-winded because of how many junior canon-lawyers there are out there denying the faith under pretext of obedience to heretical leaders in the hierarchy. Others honestly believe that Divine Revelation can be changed a little bit as time goes on. Such people need to consider Christ’s own words: Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.—Mt 5:19
We must obey God rather than man.—Acts 5:29
“We must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29) is where Catholics are at, especially at the worst Church crisis since Arianism. Yes, false obedience to a true bishop is easier than true obedience to the Bible in a modernist Church crisis like this. Why? Simply because it hurts our brains to think through these things! It is easier to refrain from Sunday Mass “just because my bishop told me I don’t have to go.” While a bishop can occasionally dispense from Mass (eg in a real pandemic) the fact is that no authority on earth can ever fully dispense with the third commandment entirely.
Here is where we have to think things through, even if it takes more brain-power. Complex brain-power might be necessary for salvation in complex times. St. Thomas More disobeyed his bishops (who presumably went to hell) all the while St. Thomas More went to heaven and even got canonized for disobeying the bishops (among other heroic acts of putting God before man.) Indeed, the saintly layman understood that during complex times of Church history, a man must use his wits (not just a good heart) to be saved. As many of you remember, St. Thomas More said to his daughter Meg in the movie A Man for All Seasons:
Listen, Meg, God made the angels to show Him splendor, as He made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But Man He made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of his mind. If He suffers us to come to such a case that there is no escaping, then we may stand to our tackle as best we can, and, yes, Meg, then we can clamor like champions, if we have the spittle for it. But it’s God’s part, not our own, to bring ourselves to such a pass.