Faith or Apostolic Authority: Which Comes First?
Most Rev. Donald J. Sanborn
An answer to an objection against sedevacantism.
OBJECTION: Paul VI, John Paul I, and John Paul II are legitimately elected Popes. They are in possession of apostolic succession and of apostolic authority to teach, rule, and sanctify the Church. The teaching of Vatican II, as well as the reforms promulgated by these Popes should be accepted as the teaching and discipline of the Catholic Church. To subject these teachings and disciplines to scrutiny and rejection, is to fall into the error of private interpretation.
RESPONSE: As the reader may expect, I reject this analysis of the current situation, that is, that the refusal of Vatican II and the subsequent changes are an exercise in private interpretation. Rather the refusal, as I said in Dissent of Faith, springs from the very act of divine and catholic Faith, which, at one and the same time, assents to the truth which is revealed by God and proposed by the Church, and dissents from its logical contradictory.
For example, we assent, by faith, to the proposition that Christ is really present in the Holy Eucharist; at the same time, we dissent from the proposition that Christ is not really present in the Holy Eucharist. The dissent is as strong as the assent, and there is no faith without the dissent from what is opposed to the truths of the faith. Hence the Church not only proposes the truth, but condemns infallibly what is contrary to it.
But Vatican II and the post-Vatican II “universal ordinary magisterium” has contradicted the teaching of the Catholic Church on many points. Therefore the Catholic must give his dissent, if he is to remain faithful to his Baptism.
This dissent, in turn, gives rise, through a few simple logical steps, to a dogmatic fact that the perpetrator of the false teaching could not possibly be teaching with the authority of Christ. This would be blasphemous, and contrary to the promises of Christ.
This argument does not even touch on the personal orthodoxy of the post-conciliar “popes”. It is a mere comparison of the ordinary universal magisterium of the pre-conciliar and post-conciliar Church. While faith is above reason, it is not opposed to reason, and the faith cannot tolerate a contradiction in teaching any more than reason can.
The recognition of the true Church is not an act of faith but an act of reason. As Garrigou-Lagrange puts it in his De Revelatione, man must be brought to the conclusion that it is reasonable to make an act of faith in the Catholic Church. Apologetics must bring a reasonable person to the point that he recognizes that the Catholic Church has the signs of being the one, true Church of Christ.
An absolute requirement of the genuineness of the true Church of Christ is that it not contradict itself in its official doctrine. For contradiction in official doctrine would be a certain sign of human corruption and of a purely human institution. Therefore even before the act of faith, the oneness of doctrine the non-contradiction of doctrine of the Catholic Church must be apparent to all, even to those who do not have the faith.
Vatican II destroys, therefore, the entire apologetical argument of the Catholic Church, for it clearly contradicts on:
(1) religious liberty (condemned by Mirari vos of Gregory XVI and by Quanta Cura of Pius IX);
(2) the unity and unicity of the Catholic Church as the one true Church (the ecclesiology of Vatican II was condemned by Pius XII in Mystici Corporis);
(3) ecumenism (condemned by the Apostolic Letter of Pius VIII, Summo iugiter of Gregory XVI, and Mortalium animos of Pius XI).
The New Missal, furthermore, contains a heretical definition of the Mass. This is to mention only a few of the problems of Vatican II, but these are sufficient, indeed, one contradiction would be sufficient.
The objection argues essentially that these teachings cannot be contradictory since they come from a duly elected Roman Pontiff, who cannot err in teaching and legislating concerning these matters. If there is contradiction, it must be only apparent, and a benign interpretation of the documents would solve the problem.
I respond that in these points Vatican II is clearly contradictory virtually word for word in some cases and that the faith must reject these contradictions with even more vehemence than reason would. Your argument requires the faith to do what is intrinsically impossible, even for God, which is to affirm and deny the same thing at the same time.
The faith cannot say that the statement “Mary was not assumed body and soul into heaven” is somehow reconcilable with the statement, “Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven”. Any church which would demand such an assent from its adherents, despite whatever “interpretation” may be given to it, is certainly not the Church, and would never stand the test of time, since it does not stand the test of reason.
The acceptance of Vatican II and its reforms as Catholic does immeasurable harm to, in fact destroys, the unity of faith of the Catholic Church, and ruins the entire apologetical structure, which is its appeal to reason and common sense.
The objection argues that the Church’s apostolicity is a sufficient guarantee of the orthodoxy of Vatican II. But apostolicity, thus understood, is excessively restricted, for the Church must be apostolic not only in its succession of popes and bishops, but also in its doctrine, worship, and government.
Fr. Schultes O.P., in his De Ecclesia Catholica defines apostolicity in this manner:
Nota apostolicitatis est charisma et proprietas Ecclesiæ qua per legitimam, publicam et numquam interruptam pastorum ab Apostolis successionem in identitate fidei, cultus et regiminis continuatur. (Emphasis mine.)
[“The note of apostolicity is the charism and property of the Church by which it is continued through a legitimate, public and never interrupted succession of pastors from the Apostles in identity of faith, worship and discipline.”]
Thus apostolicity is not saved if there is not an identity of faith, worship, and discipline throughout the successive pontificates. For as nearly all the authors point out, the succession must be formal and not merely material, i.e., there must be a single apostolic authority exercised by the diverse titulars of the authority. It is this oneness of divinely assisted apostolic authority which ensures the oneness of faith, worship, and government. Therefore lack of identity of faith, worship and discipline is an infallible sign of lack of divinely assisted apostolic authority.
But Vatican II has broken the identity of faith, worship, and discipline, from which it follows that the authority which has promulgated this non-identical non-catholic faith, worship, and discipline cannot be apostolic authority, since apostolic authority is incapable of doing such a thing. What is left in the Vatican is a purely material succession of popes, i.e., the pure possession of the see without the authority which naturally accompanies it. As far as authority goes, the see is vacant, and the Church is in the same condition, authority-wise, as when a Pope dies and another has not been elected.
The objection is, if I understand it correctly: if there is apostolic succession, there is unity of faith. My response is: if there is lack of unity of faith, there is no (formal) apostolic succession. Both of these arguments, stated here as hypothetical major premises, are true. Their value in a conclusion is dependent upon the verification of the condition. Now the question is: which is prior? Apostolic succession or faith?
I answer faith. Faith is metaphysically prior to authority, since authority consists in a relation of the public person to the community, the basis of which is the furtherance of the common good of the community. But it is the Faith which determines the common good, the finality, of the Church. Hence the profession of the true Faith is a condition sine qua non of the assumption of apostolic authority in the Church, and it (the Faith) must be verified before apostolic succession is verified. But Vatican II, the New Mass, and the New Code, contain contradiction to the teaching of the Church. This contradiction is therefore an infallible sign that the material incumbent of the throne of Peter lacks or lacked the necessary qualities to assume apostolic authority, for we must believe by the virtue of divine and catholic faith that it is intrinsically impossible that apostolic authority contradict itself in faith, worship and discipline, whereas it is not impossible, either by faith or reason, that an incumbent pope lose his authority. Therefore the succession which Montini, Luciani, and Wojtyla enjoy is a purely material succession, i.e., they have been named by legal process to a position in which they are disposed to accept this authority.
I agree that an authoritative witness (e.g. a diocesan bishop) is necessary for the authoritative recognition of the non-papacy of Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II, but I maintain that the private, even collective recognition of the fact by the faithful is both right and obligatory. For the individual baptized Catholic has an obligation to reject what is contrary to the Faith. He therefore rejects Vatican II as contrary to the Faith. When the hierarchy which has accepted and promulgated Vatican II tells him to accept it, he must reject their apostolic authority based on his prior rejection of Vatican II by his virtue of faith.
This is the entire sense of Galatians, I: 8, where St. Paul warns the faithful to anathematize himself, an apostle (“though we...”) if they find that his doctrine does not match what they have already heard from him. According to the theory described in the objection, this text would read, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, you must accept the new gospel because it is preached you by an apostle, and just figure that there is no contradiction between the two.”
St. Paul obviously charges the faithful with the verification of the identity of the Faith in their apostolic teachers as a condition for accepting them. In fact, if this Faith is lacking, the command is: let him be anathema.
According to the apostolic command, therefore, the faithful must verify the teaching of those elected to apostolic positions, at least implicitly by being ready to reject them, anathematize them, if they should teach a false doctrine. This is an unassailable argument which is properly theological, as it argues from the authority of St. Paul, that the identity of faith is prior to apostolic authority, and that the faithful themselves, and not necessarily bishops, can and must recognize the identity or lack of identity of the Faith.
I concede to you, however, that the authoritative anathema must come from the authority of the Church. It is this authoritative anathema which we all pray for and hope for. In the meantime, we gather in St. Peter’s Square and shout to JP 2 one collective, unauthoritative but thunderous ANATHEMA!
The method which the objection proposes is to say that Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II are unmistakably the successors of St. Peter, have been elected by due process, and having been recognized as such by the entire Catholic hierarchy. Therefore they have apostolic authority. Therefore their doctrine, worship, and discipline is infallibly Catholic, and any contradiction must be held by the faith to be only apparent and not real.
I respond by saying that the act of faith, being an act of assent of the intellect, is made with an implicit affirmation of the principle of contradiction, which principle cannot, by metaphysical impossibility, bear its contradictory. To recall the example cited above, the intellect cannot assent to, at the same time, the proposition Christ is really present in the Holy Eucharist and Christ is not really present in the Holy Eucharist. To do so would be the equivalent of asserting that a circle is a square, which is intrinsically impossible.
The type of act which Vatican II is requiring of the faith is an impossible act, i.e., to assent to contradictory teaching, especially with the motive of God revealing and divinely assisted apostolic authority proposing.
On the other hand, what is not impossible, indeed what is seen as quite possible by many theologians, is the loss of papal power by an incumbent. The act of faith, therefore, in refusing the impossible and sinful act of asserting the opposite of what it assents to by faith, turns back and rightfully and necessarily refuses to recognize the apostolic authority in the promulgator. 
To demand the acceptance of the contradictions of Vatican II in its doctrines, worship, and discipline is to demand that the faithful posit the impossible act of asserting contradictory propositions with the highest certitude. This ruins the unity of faith, without which neither sanctity, apostolicity or catholicity can survive as properties of the Catholic Church. For there is no sanctification without supernatural truth, and there is no supernatural truth without unity of truth. There is no catholicity without unity of faith, for catholicity universality by definition is one thing applied to many (unum versus alia) .
Finally, as we have seen above, there is no apostolicity without unity of faith, for unity of faith is a necessary condition of the possession of apostolic authority. The acceptance of Vatican II and its reforms therefore places the Church in radical absurdity, strips her of her four marks, and reduces her to being a purely human institution. The refusal of Vatican II, its reforms, and the authenticity of the “popes” who promulgated it, on the other hand, retains the unity of faith, retains the four marks, retains the indefectibility of the Church.
The moral continuity of the hierarchy is assured by the (1) material succession, and (2) by the fact that the Church awaits a formal successor, that is, someone to assume apostolic power. This expectation of the Church of a new pope, as well as the recognition of the power of the papacy, provides the moral continuity from pope to pope in the vacancy of the see at any pope’s death.
Furthermore, the faith’s necessary rejection of apostolic authority in Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II is overwhelmingly confirmed by the shambles to which the Church has been reduced as a result of Vatican II. I cite the undeniable fact that there has been a total and unprecedented breakdown of faith in the institutions which were once Catholic.
This breakdown of faith, this Great Apostasy of which St. Paul and the Catechism of the Council of Trent speak, is a direct result of this intrinsic disorder of Vatican II. Having lived before, during and after the Council, I can assure you that this Council was the cause of the breakdown of faith. The Catholic Faith was intact in the institutions the Church before Vatican II; it disappeared gradually as John XXIII and Paul VI instituted the reforms of the Council.
The principal reason for this breakdown is the false doctrine of religious liberty and ecumenism, which strips, if it were possible, the Catholic Church of its essential quality of being the one, true Church of Christ, outside of which there is no salvation. It strips the Church of its ability to teach with the authority of God, and to bind the consciences of men.
The great error of Vatican II is the supremacy of the human conscience over the teaching of the Catholic Church. This error is fundamentally protestant and masonic, and is an infallible sign that those who have authoritatively taught it were certainly not teaching it with the authority of Christ. In addition, I cite the absolutely apostatical conduct of the post-conciliar “popes”.
If you read Peter, Lovest Thou Me?, it is impossible to reconcile Wojtyla’s magisterium or praxis with the Catholic Faith. Yet his utterly disgusting ecumenical acts are thoroughly in accordance with the Vatican II ecclesiology. He is not assailed as an evildoer by the Vatican II hierarchy, but is rather praised for his apostasy of masonic-style religious indifferentism and liberty of conscience. The principles for this unprecedented breakdown of doctrine, worship, and discipline are contained in Vatican II and the post-Vatican II “universal ordinary magisterium” of the modernist hierarchy.
Finally, the scenario of Vatican II non-popes is thoroughly in accordance with the programs of the enemies of the Church since the French Revolution. They have desired to place one of their own on the throne of Peter, and have predicted that they would succeed. St. Pius X warned us of modernist infiltration in the ranks of the clergy. Fogazzaro, the apostate priest, in his book, Il Santo, condemned by Saint Pius X, describes a church like that of the Vatican II church, and warns the conspirators never to leave the Church, but rather to be patient and to take it over from within. The movement Rinovamento, also from that period, had the same designs. The Catholic of the twentieth century could therefore expect the situation which we now see before us, and expect to refuse authenticity to the authority which these modernist snakes claim to possess.
(Sacerdotium 4, Summer 1992).
 What is repugnant from both points of view, i.e., of both the faith and apostolic authority, is to recognize apostolic authority in the post-conciliar Popes, but at the same time to reject their teaching and discipline. It is repugnant from the point of view of the faith, for it removes from the faith its condition sine qua non, which is the proposition of the Church, for if the Church is fallible in its proposition of truths, it cannot be a condition of the faith. It is repugnant, furthermore, from the point of view of apostolic authority, since such a “picking and choosing” of the teachings and decrees of the authority implicitly denies the infallibility and indefectibility of this authority. Unfortunately this is the position of the Society of Saint Pius X. For them, the true authority which proposes the truths of the Faith infallibly is not the “apostolic authority” of John Paul II, but rather the “authority” of Archbishop Lefebvre. Thus they will accept a teaching, a liturgical practice, or a discipline from John Paul II only if it has been approved by Archbishop Lefebvre. The actual conditio sine qua non of the faith of the adherents of this group is not the auctoritas Ecclesiæ proponentis, but the auctoritas Archiepiscopi proponentis or accipientis. Since his death on March 25, 1991, this group has not yet been subject to the test of a divisive issue, for now that the Archbishop is deceased, the new conditio sine qua non of the faith of the group will be auctoritas Patris Schmidberger proponentis. Whether his authority will have the same pizzazz is yet to be seen. I rather think that, when faced with a crossroads, they will divide up over the question, “What would the Archbishop have done in this case?”