Archive for December, 2018

Vatican II “in the Light of Tradition”?

December 14th, 2018 by Vigilo

Pastoral Letter by Bishop Mark A. Pivarunas, CMRI

Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul
June 29, 1994

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

In the past few years, there has been a rise in the number of conservative publications which attempt to excuse the chaos and confusion in the modern Church of Vatican II by the erroneous argument that there is nothing theologically wrong with the decrees of the Second Vatican Council and that the problems supposedly are caused by misinterpretations on the part of liberal priests, religious and laity. These publications enumerate the abuses perpetrated in the Conciliar Church and yet insist that the problem has not been caused by the modern teachings of the Council. They insist that the Vatican II decrees must be interpreted “in the light of tradition.” Let us briefly examine some of the many modern teachings which emanated from the Second Vatican Council and see if they can be interpreted “in the light of tradition.”

First of all, when the term “in the light of tradition” is used, it should mean that references can be found in the Church’s tradition to the particular doctrines in question. To interpret a doctrine “in the light of tradition” should mean that the doctrine has been previously taught by past Popes and Ecumenical Councils.

Let us begin by the examination of Vatican II’s “Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions.” As we quote from this official Declaration of the Council, let us ponder how this Declaration could be interpreted “in the light of tradition.”

Declaration of the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Vatican Council II; October 28, 1965)

“From ancient times down to the present, there has existed among divers peoples a certain perception of the hidden power that hovers over the course of things and over the events of human life… Religions bound up with cultural advancement have struggled to reply to these questions with more refined concepts and in more highly developed language.

“Thus, in Hinduism men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible fruitfulness of myths and a searching philosophical inquiry. They seek release from the anguish of our condition through ascetical practices or deep meditation or a loving, trusting flight toward God.”

Before we continue with the text, let us consider the overwhelming depth of error contained in these praises of Hinduism. Hinduism is a pantheistic as well as a polytheistic religion. It recognizes various gods in the created world. The world and everything in it, including man, is god. Among the various Hindu divinities, there are three of great importance — Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver; and Shiva, the destroyer. Hindus worship many animals as god. Cows are the most sacred, but they also worship monkeys, snakes and other animals. Man is supposedly involved in an endless evolution of birth and death called reincarnation.

How then can this Declaration of Vatican II use the terminology that Hindus make “a loving, trusting flight toward God”? — Which god is referred to? Certainly not the true God.

“And express it through an inexhaustible fruitfulness of myths and a searching philosophical inquiry.” — How can one express “the divine mystery” (which is not defined) through myths and philosophical inquiry?

Did the authors of this Declaration ever hear of the First Commandment of God:

“I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have strange gods before Me”?

Continuing the text of the Declaration:

“Buddhism in its multiple forms acknowledges the radical insufficiency of this shifting world. It teaches a path by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, can either reach a state of absolute freedom or attain supreme enlightenment by their own efforts or by higher assistance.”

Buddhism, like Hinduism, is a false religion yet differs in that it does not recognize a personal god. How then could the Second Vatican council officially declare the praises of this false religion? What kind of doctrine is it to proclaim that Buddhism “teaches a path by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, can either reach a state of absolute freedom or attain supreme enlightenment by their own efforts or by higher assistance”? What is this ambiguous “absolute freedom” and “supreme enlightenment”?

This Declaration, besides its ambiguous language of the Hindu’s “divine mystery” and “loving trusting flight toward God” and the Buddhists’ “state of absolute freedom“ and attainment of “supreme enlightenment,” is purely and simply the ultimate display of religious indifferentism! Religious indifferentism is the false belief, so often condemned by the Catholic Church, which holds that all religions are equally good and that men can attain salvation in the practice of any religion. This is manifestly false because God has revealed the true religion by which He is to be worshipped through His Only-begotten Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was truly a historical person and He worked the most stupendous miracles to prove His Divine Mission. To maintain that all religions are acceptable is to imply that Jesus Christ wasted His time to reveal the true Faith and found the true Church. Why should He have accomplished this, if, in the final analysis, the man-made religions of the world would also be acceptable.

The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration continues with praises of the Muslims:

“Upon the Muslims, too, the Church looks with esteem… Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet.”

Herein lies a subtle contradiction. If Jesus Christ is acknowledged at least as a prophet by the Muslims, and prophets are truly inspired by God, how do the Muslims deny the Divinity of Jesus Christ Who solemnly and explicitly proclaimed Himself to be God — equal to the Father? Did the Catholic Church ever in its history look with esteem upon the religion of Islam? How can this be interpreted “in the light of tradition”?

Then comes the most preposterous statement of this entire Declaration:

“The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions.”

What can be “good and holy” in the worship of false gods and in the practice of false religions?

Following this quote in the Declaration, there is a footnote which is the most damning of all statements:

“Through the centuries, however, missionaries often concluded that non-Christian religions are simply the work of Satan and that the missionaries’ task is to convert from error to knowledge of the truth. This Declaration marks an authoritative change in approach.”

Since Vatican Council II, no longer is it the role of the missionaries to convert the people of these religions to Catholicism; their new role is merely to promote the “good” in them?! This doctrine is directly opposed to the mission of the Catholic Church.

Christ founded His Church to teach all nations all things whatsoever He commanded. This was His solemn command to His Apostles and their successors:

“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; and behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world” (Matt. 28:19).

“Go into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

Where would the Catholic Church be today if the Apostles and their successors did not attempt to convert to the true Faith the followers of false religions? Where would the Catholic Church be today if the Apostles and their successors merely tried to promote the “good” found in these false religions?

Continuing the text of the Declaration:

“The Church therefore has this exhortation for her sons: prudently and lovingly, through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, and in witness of Christian faith and life, acknowledge, preserve and promote the spiritual and moral goods found among these men, as well as the values in their society and culture.”

How does one “in witness of Christian faith acknowledge, preserve, and promote the spiritual and moral goods” of false religions? Is Christianity, is Catholicism compatible and reconcilable with the worship of false gods?! What are the “spiritual and moral goods” to be found in false worship? Why is there not any reference to the work of conversion of the people of these religions?

Should it be any wonder why so many Catholics since Vatican II have involved themselves in the practices of the Eastern religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islamism?

Should it be any wonder that since Vatican II, John Paul II and his modernist clergy have publicly gathered together for worship in common with the leaders of these false religions and a multitude of other religions, including Animism, Voodooism, Shintoism, etc.?

What then are we to think of the argument that the decrees of Vatican II must be interpreted “in the light of tradition”? No where in tradition will we find such absurd doctrines. And as for interpretation, we only need to look to the ecumenical affair held in Assisi where 150 religions of the world assembled at the invitation of John Paul II to pray together. As Pope Pius XI so aptly defined such false ecumenism — “it is tantamount to abandoning the religion revealed by God” (Mortalium Animos).

In Christo Jesu et Maria Immaculata,
Most Rev. Mark A. Pivarunas, CMRI

What Must Be Believed by Catholics

December 11th, 2018 by Vigilo

posted by CMRI

St. Vincent of Lerins

“Also in the Catholic Church itself we take great care that we hold that which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and properly Catholic, as the very force and meaning of the word shows, which comprehends everything almost universally. And we shall observe this rule if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is plain that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent if in antiquity itself we eagerly follow the definitions and beliefs of all, or certainly nearly all, priests and doctors alike.”

“What, then, will the Catholic Christian do if any part of the Church has cut itself off from the communion of the Universal Faith? What surely but prefer the soundness of the whole body to a pestilent and corrupt member?

“What if some novel contagion seeks to infect the whole Church, and not merely a small portion of it? Then he will take care to cling to antiquity, which cannot now be led astray by any novel deceit.

“What if in antiquity itself error be detected on the part of two or three men, or perhaps of a city, or even of a province? Then he will look to it that he prefer the decrees of an ancient General Council, if such there be, to the rashness and ignorance of a few.

“But what if some error spring up concerning which nothing of this kind is to be found? Then he must take pains to find out and compare the opinions of the ancients, provided, of course, that such remained in the communion and faith of the One Catholic Church, although they lived in different times and places, conspicuous and approved teachers; and whatever he shall find to have been held, written and taught, not by one or two only, but by all equally and with one consent, openly, frequently and persistently, that he must understand is to be believed by himself also without the slightest hesitation.“

— St. Vincent of Lerins, “The Commonitory,“ tr. by T. Herbert Bindley (London: SPCK, 1914), book 1, chapter 2, no. 6-8, pp. 26-28. Emphasis added.

Compiled by Bishop Mark A. Pivarunas, CMRI

Objection I: Pope Pius XII lifted all ecclesiastical penalties during the conclave to elect the pope. So even if the Vatican II popes were heretics before their elections, they would still be validly elected.

Answer: Heretics and schismatics are barred by DIVINE LAW from the election to the Papal Office. Pope Pius XII lifted ecclesiastical penalties; he did not, would not, could not dispense from Divine Law.

Proof:

A. Institutiones Iuris Canonici [1950], Coronata

— “Appointment to the Office of the Primacy — What is required by DIVINE LAW for this appointment… Also required for validity is that the one elected be a member of the Church; hence, heretics and apostates (at least public ones) are excluded…”

B. Institutiones luris Canonici [1921], Marato

— “Heretics and schismatics are barred from the Supreme Pontificate by the Divine Law itself, because, although by divine law they are not considered incapable of participating in a certain type of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, nevertheless, they must certainly be regarded as excluded from occupying the throne of the Apostolic See, which is the infallible teacher of the truth of the faith and the center of ecclesiastical unity.

C. Bull Cum Ex Apostolatus [16 Feb. 1559], Pope Paul IV

— “Further, if ever it should appear that any bishop (even one acting as an archbishop, patriarch or primate), or a cardinal of the Roman Church, or a legate (as mentioned above), or even the Roman Pontiff (whether prior to his promotion to cardinal, or prior to his election as Roman Pontiff), has beforehand deviated from the Catholic faith or fallen into any heresy, We enact, decree, determine and define:

— “Such promotion or election in and of itself, even with the agreement and unanimous consent of all the cardinals, shall be null, legally invalid and void.

— “It shall not be possible for such a promotion or election to be deemed valid or to be valid, neither through reception of office, consecration, subsequent administration, or possession, nor even through the putative enthronement of a Roman Pontiff himself, together with the veneration and obedience accorded him by all.

— “Such promotion or election, shall not through any lapse of time in the foregoing situation, be considered even partially legitimate in any way….

— “Each and all of their words, acts, laws, appointments of those so promoted or elected — and indeed, whatsoever flows therefrom — shall be lacking in force, and shall grant no stability and legal power to anyone whatsoever.

— “Those so promoted or elected, by that very fact and without the need to make any further declaration, shall be deprived of any dignity, position, honor, title, authority, office and power.”

D. Institutiones luris Canonici [1921], C. Baldii

— “The law now in force for the election of the Roman Pontiff is reduced to these points:…

— “Barred as incapable of being validly elected are the following: women, children who have not reached the age of reason, those suffering from habitual insanity, the unbaptized, heretics and schismatics….”

Objection II: Vatican Council I taught that St. Peter has perpetual successors; therefore, long vacancies in the See of Peter are not possible.

Answer: Nowhere does the Church determine how long a vacancy may exist in the See of Peter. Between the death of Pope Clement IV (November 29, 1268) and the election of Pope Gregory X (September 1, 1271), there was an interregnum of nearly three years. During the Western Schism, there were three claimants to the See of Peter; theologians teach that even if none of them were pope, that would not be against the promise of Christ or the teaching of perpetual successors.

Proof:

A. Institutiones Theologiae Fundamentalis [1929], Rev. A. Dorsch

— “The Church therefore is a society that is essentially monarchical. But this does not prevent the Church, for a short time after the death of a pope, or even for many years, from remaining deprived of her head [vel etiam per plures annos capite suo destituta manet].”

B. The Relations of the Church to Society [1882], Fr. Edward J. O’Reilly, S.J.

— “In the first place, there was all throughout from the death of Gregory XI in 1378, a Pope—with the exception, of course, of the intervals between deaths and elections to fill up the vacancies thereby created. There was, I say, at every given time a Pope, really invested with the dignity of Vicar of Christ and Head of the Church, whatever opinions might exist among many as to his genuineness; not that an interregnum covering the whole period would have been impossible or inconsistent with the promises of Christ, for this is by no means manifest, but that, as a matter of fact, there was not such an interregnum.”

C. The Catholic’s Ready Answer [1915], Rev. M. P. Hill, S.J.

— “If during the entire schism (nearly 40 years) there had been no Pope at all—that would not prove that the office and authority of Peter was not transmitted to the next Pope duly elected.”

D. The Defense of the Catholic Church [1927] Fr. Francis X. Doyle, S.J.

— “The Church is a visible society with a visible Ruler. If there can be any doubt about who that visible Ruler is, he is not visible, and hence, where there is any doubt about whether a person has been legitimately elected Pope, that doubt must be removed before he can become the visible head of Christ’s Church. Blessed Bellarmine, S.J., says: ‘A doubtful Pope must be considered as not Pope’; and Suarez, S.J., says: ‘At the time of the Council of Constance there were three men claiming to be Pope…. Hence, it could have been that not one of them was the true Pope, and in that case, there was no Pope at all….’”

Objection III: If all the Vatican II popes were invalid, then there would be no cardinals to elect a future pope. Thus the Papacy would come to an end which is impossible.

Answer: During the Western Schism, three men claimed to be pope (the true pope in Rome, one in Avignon, one in Pisa) In order to heal the nearly forty-year schism, the Council of Constance determined that with all the cardinals, delegates from each country would participate in the papal election (Pope Martin V was elected). Theologians teach that in doubt of or in absence of cardinals, the Church has the right to choose its Head.

Proof:

A. De Potestate Ecclesiae, Vitoria

— “Even if St. Peter would have not determined anything, once he was dead, the Church had the power to substitute him and appoint a successor to him … If by any calamity, war or plague, all Cardinals would be lacking, we cannot doubt that the Church could provide for herself a Holy Father.

— “Hence such an election should be carried out by all the Church and not by any particular Church. And this is because that power is common and it concerns the whole Church. So it must be the duty of the whole Church.”

B. De Comparatione Auctoritatis Papae et Concilii, Cajetan, OP

— “.. . by exception and by supplementary manner this power (that of electing a pope), corresponds to the Church and to the Council, either by the absence of Cardinal Electors, or because they are doubtful, or the election itself is uncertain, as it happened at the time of the schism.”

C. De Ecclesia Christi, Billot

— “When it would be necessary to proceed with the election, if it is impossible to follow the regulations of papal law, as was the case during the Great Western Schism, one can accept, without difficulty, that the power of election could be transferred to a General Council.”

— “Because natural law prescribes that, in such cases, the power of a superior is passed to the immediate inferior because this is absolutely necessary for the survival of the society and to avoid the tribulations of extreme need.”

D. The Church of the Incarnate Word [1954], Msgr. Charles Journet

The Church During a Vacancy of the Holy See

— “We must not think of the Church, when the Pope is dead, as possessing the papal power in act, in a state of diffusion, so that she herself can delegate it to the next Pope in whom it will be re-condensed and made definite. When the Pope dies the Church is widowed, and, in respect of the visible universal jurisdiction, she is truly acephalous. But she is not acephalous as are the schismatic churches, nor like a body on the way to decomposition. Christ directs her from heaven … But, though slowed down, the pulse of life has not left the Church; she possesses the power of the Papacy in potency, in the sense that Christ, who has willed her always to depend on a visible pastor, has given her power to designate the man to whom He will Himself commit the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, as once He committed them to Peter.

— “During a vacancy of the Apostolic See, neither the Church nor the Council can contravene the provisions already laid down to determine the valid mode of election (Cardinal Cajetan, O.P., in De Comparata, cap.xiii, no. 202). However, in case of permission (for example if the Pope has provided nothing against it), or in case of ambiguity (for example, if it is unknown who the true Cardinals are or who the true Pope is, as was the case at the time of the Great Schism), the power ‘of applying the Papacy to such and such a person’ devolves on the universal Church, the Church of God.”

Objection IV: Even if a pope fell into heresy, he would remain pope until the Church declared him a heretic and no longer pope.

Answer: Pope Paul IV, in Cum Ex Apostolatus, Pope Innocent III in Si Papa, and theologians teach that a heretical pope is deposed by God.

Proof:

A. Bull: Cum Ex Apostolatus [16 Feb. 1559], Pope Paul IV

— “Further, if ever it should appear that any bishop (even one acting as an archbishop, patriarch or primate), or a cardinal of the Roman Church, or a legate (as mentioned above), or even the Roman Pontiff (whether prior to his promotion to cardinal, or prior to his election as Roman Pontiff), has beforehand deviated from the Catholic faith or fallen into any heresy, We enact, decree, determine and define:

— “Such promotion or election in and of itself, even with the agreement and unanimous consent of all the cardinals, shall be null, legally invalid and void… Those so promoted or elected, by that very fact and without the need to make any further declaration, shall be deprived of any dignity, position, honor, title, authority, office and power.”

B. Si Papa [1198], Pope Innocent III

— “The Pope should not flatter himself about his power nor should he rashly glory in his honor and high estate, because the less he is judged by man, the more he is judged by God. Still the less can the Roman Pontiff glory because he can be judged by men, or rather, can be shown to be already judged, if for example he should wither away into heresy; because he who does not believe is already judged. In such a case it should be said of him: ‘If salt should lose its savor, it is good for nothing but to be cast out and trampled under foot by men.’”

C. Institutiones Juris Canonici [1950] – Coronata

— “If indeed such a situation would happen, he [the Roman Pontiff] would, by divine law, fall from office without any sentence, indeed, without even a declaratory one. He who openly professes heresy places himself outside the Church, and it is not likely that Christ would preserve the Primacy of His Church in one so unworthy. Wherefore, if the Roman Pontiff were to profess heresy, before any condemnatory sentence (which would be impossible anyway) he would lose his authority.”

D. St. Robert Bellarmine [1610]

— “A Pope who is a manifest heretic automatically ceases to be a Pope and head, just as he ceases automatically to be a Christian and a member of the Church.”

E. St. Antoninus [1459]

— “In the case in which the Pope would become a heretic, he would find himself, by that very fact alone and without any other sentence, separated from the Church. A head separated from a body cannot, as long as it remains separated, be head of the same body from which it was cut off.”

F. St. Francis de Sales [1622]

— “Now when the Pope is explicitly a heretic, he falls ipso facto from his dignity and out of the Church …”

G. Canon Law – [1943] – Wernz-Vidal

— “Through notorious and openly divulged heresy, the Roman Pontiff, should he fall into heresy, by that very fact (ipso facto) is deemed to be deprived of the power of jurisdiction even before any declaratory judgment by the Church … A Pope who falls into public heresy would cease ipso facto to be a member of the Church; therefore, he would also cease to be head of the Church.

H. Introductio in Codicem [1946] – Udalricus Beste

— “Not a few canonists teach that, outside of death and abdication, the pontifical dignity can also be lost by falling into certain insanity, which is legally equivalent to death, as well as through manifest and notorious heresy. In the latter case, a pope would automatically fall from his power, and this indeed without the issuance of any sentence, for the first See (i.e., the See of Peter) is judged by no one … The reason is that, by falling into heresy, the pope ceases to be a member of the Church. He who is not a member of a society, obviously, cannot be its head.”

I. Epitome Juris Canonici [1949] – A. Vermeersch

— “At least according to the more common teaching the Roman Pontiff as a private teacher can fall into manifest heresy. Then, without any declaratory sentence (for the supreme See is judged by no one), he would automatically (ipso facto) fall from power which he who is no longer a member of the Church is unable to possess.”

Long-Term Vacancy of the Holy See

December 4th, 2018 by Vigilo

By John Daly

Revised and edited by John Lane, October 1999

In 1882 a book was published in England called The Relations of the Church to Society — Theological Essays, comprising 29 essays by Fr. Edmund James O’Reilly S.J., one of the leading theologians of his time. The book expresses with wonderful clarity and succinctness many important theological truths and insights on subjects indirectly as well as directly related to its main theme. For our purposes the book has in one respect an even greater relevance than it did at the time of publication, for in it Fr. O’Reilly asserts with the full weight of such authority as he possesses, the following opinions:

  1. that a vacancy of the Holy See lasting for an extended period of time cannot be pronounced to be incompatible with the promises of Christ as to the indefectibility of the Church; and
  2. that it would be exceedingly rash to set any prejudged limits as to what God will be prepared to allow to happen to the Holy See (other, of course, than that a true pope will never fall into heresy, nor in any way err).

Of course Fr. O’Reilly does not have the status of pope or Doctor of the Church; but, that said, he was certainly no negligible authority. Some idea of the esteem in which he was held can be obtained from the following facts:

  • Cardinal Cullen, then Bishop of Armagh, chose him as his theologian at the Synod of Thurles in 1850. Dr. Brown, bishop of Shrewsbury, chose him as his theologian at the Synod of Shrewsbury.
  • Dr. Furlong, bishop of Ferns and his former colleague as professor of theology at Maynooth, chose him as his theologian at the Synod of Maynooth.
  • He was named professor of theology at the Catholic University in Dublin on its foundation. The General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Beckx, proposed to appoint him professor of theology at the Roman College in Rome, though as it turned out circumstances unrelated to Fr. O’Reilly intervened to prevent that appointment.
  • At a conference held regarding the philosophical and theological studies in the Society of Jesus, he was chosen to represent all the English-speaking “provinces” of the Society — that is, Ireland, England, Maryland, and the other divisions of the United States.

In short Fr. O’Reilly was widely recognized as one of the most erudite and important theologians of his time.

Finally, the following quotation by Dr. Ward in the justly renowned Dublin Review (January 1876 issue) is worth quoting (emphasis added):

“Whatever is written by so able and solidly learned a theologian — one so docile to the Church and so fixed in the ancient theological paths — cannot but be of signal benefit to the Catholic reader in these anxious and perilous times.”

Dr. Ward thought his times were anxious and perilous! Well, let us now see what “signal benefit” we, a little more than a century later, can derive from some of Fr. O’Reilly’s writing.

We open with a brief passage from an early chapter of the book, called “The Pastoral Office of the Church”. On page 33 Fr. O’Reilly says this (emphases added):

“If we inquire how ecclesiastical jurisdiction… has been continued, the answer is that… it in part came and comes immediately from God on the fulfillment of certain conditions regarding the persons. Priests having jurisdiction derive it from bishops or the pope. The pope has it immediately from God, on his legitimateelection. The legitimacy of his election depends on the observance of the rules established by previous popes regarding such election.”

Thus, if papal jurisdiction depends on a person’s legitimate election, which certainly is not verified in the case of the purported election of a formal heretic to the Chair of Peter, it follows that, in the absence of legitimate election, no jurisdiction whatever is granted, neither “de jure” nor, despite what some have tried to maintain, “de facto.”

Fr. O’Reilly makes the following remark later in his book (page 287 — our emphases added):

“A doubtful pope may be really invested with the requisite power; but he has not practically in relation to the Church the same right as a certain pope — he is not entitled to be acknowledged as Head of the Church, and may be legitimately compelled to desist from his claim.”

This extract comes from one of two chapters devoted by Fr. O’Reilly to the Council of Constance of 1414. It may be remembered that the Council of Constance was held to put an end to the disastrous schism which had begun thirty-six years earlier, and which by that time involved no fewer than three claimants to the Papacy, each of whom had a considerable following.

Back to Fr. O’Reilly:

“The Council assembled in 1414…

“We may here stop to inquire what is to be said of the position, at that time, of the three claimants, and their rights with regard to the Papacy. In the first place, there was all through, from the death of Gregory XI in 1378, a Pope — with the exception, of course, of the intervals between deaths and elections to fill up the vacancies thereby created. There was, I say, at every given time a Pope, really invested with the dignity of Vicar of Christ and Head of the Church, whatever opinions might exist among many as to his genuineness; not that an interregnum covering the whole period would have been impossible or inconsistent with the promises of Christ, for this is by no means manifest, but that, as a matter of fact, there was not such an interregnum.”

Thus one of the great theologians of the nineteenth century, writing subsequently to the 1870 Vatican Council, tells us that it is “by no means manifest” that a thirty-six year interregnum would have been impossible or inconsistent with the promises of Christ. And we can therefore legitimately ask: at what stage, if any, would such be manifest? After thirty-seven years? Or forty-seven years? Clearly, once it is established in principle that a long interregnum is not incompatible with the promises of Christ, the question of degree — how long — cannot enter into the question. That is up to God to decide, and who can know what astonishing things He may in fact decide.

And, indeed, as Fr. O’Reilly proceeds further in this remarkable chapter, written over a hundred years ago but surely fashioned by Divine Providence much more expressly for our day than for his, he makes this very point about what it can and cannot be assumed that God will permit. From page 287 (all emphases added):

“There had been anti-popes before from time to time, but never for such a continuance… nor ever with such a following…

“The great schism of the West suggests to me a reflection which I take the liberty of expressing here. If this schism had not occurred, the hypothesis of such a thing happening would appear to many chimerical. They would say it could not be; God would not permit the Church to come into so unhappy a situation. Heresies might spring up and spread and last painfully long, through the fault and to the perdition of their authors and abettors, to the great distress too of the faithful, increased by actual persecution in many places where the heretics were dominant. But that the true Church should remain between thirty and forty years without a thoroughly ascertained Head, and representative of Christ on earth, this would not be. Yet it has been; and we have no guarantee that it will not be again, though we may fervently hope otherwise. What I would infer is, that we must not be too ready to pronounce on what God may permit. We know with absolute certainty that He will fulfil His promises; not allow anything to occur at variance with them; that He will sustain His Church and enable her to triumph over all enemies and difficulties; that He will give to each of the faithful those graces which are needed for each one’s service of Him and attainment of salvation, as He did during the great schism we have been considering, and in all the sufferings and trials which the Church has passed through from the beginning. We may also trust He will do a great deal more than what He has bound Himself to by His promises. We may look forward with a cheering probability to exemption for the future from some of the troubles and misfortunes that have befallen in the past. But we, or our successors in future generations of Christians, shall perhaps see stranger evils than have yet been experienced, even before the immediate approach of that great winding up of all things on earth that will precede the day of judgment. I am not setting up for a prophet, nor pretending to see unhappy wonders, of which I have no knowledge whatever. All I mean to convey is that contingencies regarding the Church, not excluded by the Divine promises, cannot be regarded as practically impossible, just because they would be terrible and distressing in a very high degree.

While Fr. O’Reilly himself disclaims any status as a prophet, nevertheless a true prophecy is clearly exactly what this passage amounts to. Moreover it is the kind of prophecy which, provided it is advanced conditionally, as in this case, both can and should be made in the light of the evidence on which he is concentrating his gaze. In respect of much that lies in the future there is no need for special revelations in order that we may know it. As Fr. O’Reilly indicates, except where God has specifically told us that something will not occur, any assumptions concerning what He will not permit are rash; and of course such assumptions will have the disastrous result that people will be misled if the events in question do occur. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” (Isaias 55:8)