The Doctrine of the visibility of the Church happens to be one of the least well appreciated doctrines of the Church, certainly the least well known to the general public, and even to Catholics in general as well. Furthermore, even among theologians there is some considerable room for the deepening of our understanding of it. I think this current crisis has been about this doctrine, exploring its limits, understanding its true meaning, and finally just the gaining of a wide recognition of the fact of it's existence. If the rejection of any particular item of belief is called a heresy, Modernism, called by His Holiness Pope Pius X "the synthesis of all heresies," would have to be a complete and comprehensive rejection of all items of belief. As such, Modernism is in fact what simply used to be known as good old fashioned "unbelief," as in that of "he that believeth not" who stands condemned already (St. Mark 16:16).
But really, unless one wants to join the ranks of the unbelievers, why reject any belief? What is really being rejected by those who reject any particular belief is, in fact, something behind all beliefs of the Church. I think if one looks back, one will find that all heresies and schisms have had as part of them yet another heresy, indeed the root of all heresies even as love of God and neighbor is the root of all the commandments. It is the real heresy behind all heresies, even as modernism is the synthesis of all heresies.
For lack of a better name, I shall call this heresy "Invisibilism," because it is all about the rejection of God's Own Church as an institution, and indeed the very rejection of the idea of there being any such institution. Whenever a theological question was authoritatively and permanently resolved by the Church, as we know the heresies against the truth often thrived for decades, sometimes even centuries. But the whole point of any such rejection was the rejection of that Church which promulgated and enforced the true teachings. It was in fact a rejection of the Scriptural principle that "He who hears you hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me" (St. Luke 10:16).
One sees this attitude in the world, for example, with those who don't mind people having a religion in their private lives or worlds, "but don't press your religion in our face." These are the people who want Church and State kept separate so that the Church will have no official existence and no real power to enforce the theological truths. They may like, or at least tolerate, the idea of people having a personal religion but balk at the thought of any "organized religion." Or again, in various strands of Protestantism, in those who "believe in Jesus, but not in religion," who reject "churchianity," who want "Jesus, just Jesus, no saints, no church, no ritual, no anything else."
See how it has worked through history. When the churches in the East decided to separate from Rome, they lost all unity and will to convert the whole world. Each has continued with its own particular turf, perhaps respecting each other (and sometimes not), but content to leave all other parts of the world unevangelized, since after all, "Those people over there in that other country or continent or island are not our problem," nor apparently, anybody else's either.
Again, when the Protestant revolution came, it was all just "we will pick up and read a Bible, and that will tell us all we need to know to be saved," and everybody came up with their own interpretations. Is this OK? Is that OK? Some Bible verses seem to suggest yes, others no. Who can tell? In that milieu, there exists no arbiter to rule on differing interpretations, so everyone pretty much reads it the way they want and reaches whatever conclusions they desire or choose to believe.
One of the defining characteristics of the Catholic Church is its fundamental nature as not merely some organization or group or aggregate of people, but actually a large single organism, with a brain, a will, and an agenda above and beyond that of any of the component cells. The Church is a body, indeed the Mystical Body of Christ. This is no mere symbolism or flower-talk. The Church has a Mind of its own, and as with God in Heaven, its thoughts are not our thoughts. The Church is not organized like sea coral made up of zillions of similar creatures all growing together and slowly spreading, with no new shape of its own but only the form of the sea-bottom it grows on, but like a man, who stands upright and walks here and there, does things, builds things, and has a will and purpose of his own, distinct from and above and beyond the purpose of merely seeing to it that all the cells of his body are fed.
The salvation of souls is indeed the highest law of the Church, but not by a long way the only item on the Church's agenda. The Church has a goal and purpose in the world, exactly as Jesus Christ walking about in His Own literal Body did back in Nazareth. His goal was not merely to come along and save some souls and then say "OK, that's good; that's all I needed to do." Rather, He came to subject the whole of Creation to His holy will, to tear it back from the Devil who stole it back in Eden, to "restore all things in Christ," and convert not only individuals, or even whole nations of individuals, but also the nations themselves, as in their governments, their rulers, their laws, and their application and enforcement of laws.
The whole foundational belief that sets it apart from all other Churches is that of Divine delegation. Jesus Christ does not merely come, do His thing, disappear back up into Heaven, and then leave us all to fend for ourselves, perhaps hoping that someone will write a Bible before things get too bad. He taught His disciples, and then set them up as Apostles, and set Peter over them to rule and guide, and do so with the protection and guarantee of the Holy Spirit to assure everyone that Providence will not allow Peter to lead them astray. One therefore finds an unbroken succession of such "delegates" extending from the original Apostles and Peter himself clear to the traditional bishops of today, each doing the will of Christ by delegating to others to succeed them the authority handed on to them: "He who hears you hears Me."
This visible succession provides everyone with a clear-cut understanding as to where they stand, spiritually, what duties bind them, and what freedoms they have. It provides the only real assurance as to one's state with God, and with that one's eternal destiny. But it also provides a large and centralized body with the authority to act and to accomplish the will of God in the world. As a body, the Church can take a public stand regarding any moral or doctrinal issue, initiate projects for the salvific good of Mankind, organize charity to help the poor in a coordinated manner, and present the true face of Christ to the whole world with a single unified Gospel. How would it be if every Christian one heard from had his own distinct Gospel?
Indeed, many heresies have been particularly strict or rigorous, such as Donatism, which teaches that sacraments of priests and bishops who are personally in a state of mortal sin are invalid, or Novatianism which teaches that those who yielded under persecution cannot be forgiven, clear to Jansenism which imposes lengthy and difficult penances, and clear to Feeneyism which teaches that only those baptized in water can be saved. This is so because not having an authoritative leader to make that arbitrary ruling where the line is to be drawn, all they can do is set the standard as high and strict as possible, so as not to "risk" being outside it.
Other heresies are loose, lax, and lenient, for lack of any real fear of God or of not measuring up. And even the rigorous heresies are generally lax in some detail, even while strict in others. But behind them all is the lack of any trust of the institutional Church that God set up. Oftentimes, the differences are merely conjured up as some excuse to reject the Church as flawed, and no longer protected. But if it was so flawed, was there some previous time that it wasn't. and if so what happened between some hypothetical original time when things were right and later on when they were "obviously" wrong? Or if the Church was never so reliable, then how can anything be reliable? If we cannot trust His Holiness Pope Pius X or Leo XIII, how can we trust the Apostle Paul or James or any others of the Bible writers?
So what it is about a visible Church that people just don't like? One thing is that without a visible Church, matters are far more grey, situations more ambiguous and open to different opinions. What sort of person would not want to know where they stand? Only someone who already suspects that he does not stand in a good place, but is unwilling to do what it takes to be in a good place, and so prefers not to think about these things at all. There are those who like it that way, because deep down they already sense their own reprobate condition, and not wanting to be reminded of it, seek to find some way to interpret their situation as not being all so bad, or even acceptable. But this is only a lie to themselves.
Others simply don't like the inconvenience of a visible Church. After all, a visible Church will require your sacrifice of time volunteering for various charitable activities, attending Mass and other Church functions, and also your money in the form of various tithes and offerings. A visible Church will tell you when you must fast and when you can feast, who you can make love to and on what basis, and who you can't. And most of all, a visible Church has the power to enforce an excommunication against those who fail to live up to the Church's moral standards, shunning those who refuse to abide by the rules.
What all this really means is that the visible Church is the expression of the will of God in the world. As long as you only have an invisible "church," God has nothing specific or inconvenient to tell you. Don't like something the Church or even the Bible tells you? There is always somebody out there who can show you a different interpretation, one more to your liking. Or at least one which those other people out there already don't live up to (but you think you do) so you can condemn them for not living up to your standards.
God can just be this vague "force" way out yonder to whom you pray when you feel you need Him, and otherwise you can ignore Him. It's much like those people who want the benefits of marriage without the commitments. What kind of marriage would it be when one says to the other "I insist on remaining a 'free spirit' so I can be with whoever else I choose and not have to do any chore I don't want to do."? The Invisibilist wants this kind of relationship with God. There are no specific commitments or duties one is obliged to perform, and no real changes in one's life one must make, no need to overcome sin, just have God come to the rescue when in trouble, and hopefully save you in the end.
And so does every heretic or schismatic. The moment one rejects the lawful appointed ministers of God's Own visible Church one "frees" himself to having such a selfish one way "relationship" with God, assuming they even bother to continue believing in God at all. This is what every heresy buys and what every heresy and schism has truly been all about. The particulars of the heresy are but an excuse to put oneself in such a condition. This is why I believe Invisibilism to be the "heresy behind all heresies."
As with all things God creates, this can either be injured or stolen and abused. It is injured when simply attacked with some heresy or schism, but stolen and abused whenever someone so delegated attempts to use that authority, not for the purposes Christ intended and for which they were delegated, but for some twisted and selfish agenda of their own. Where a more conventional attack such as a heresy or schism would be like a swift kick in a sensitive place, or even an amputation, this theft and abuse is more like a cancer, converting the body's own resources towards the destruction of the body itself with the additional malady of the destruction of the soul itself.
It has always been a perennial problem that a person, say some priest or bishop, lawfully appointed to some parish or diocese, might "go berserk" and decide to do his own thing instead of the things of God. Even worse, he could even use this not merely for private profit and amusements but actually to twist his congregation itself to some selfish and unchristian end, teach and impose a heresy, and so forth. The promise of Christ does not extend to guaranteeing that this would never occur (obviously) but rather that there would exist the lawful means to address the situation by those who are lawful to reform or oust the erring cleric(s).
So, if a priest goes berserk, sooner or later his bishop will have to deal with the situation, and provide that congregation with another priest. If a bishop goes berserk, the Pope will (again, sooner or later, ought to be sooner but often has been rather later, but always at least eventually) reform or oust the bishop and provide that diocese with another. The situation with the possibility of a pope going thus berserk was one of the questions addressed by His Eminence St. Robert Bellarmine and I won't reiterate his solutions here, beyond the basic upshot of his considerations that such a "pope" demonstrates himself to not be a pope at all. Presumably in such a condition, it would be up to whoever is not gone berserk to see to seeking a juridical solution to the situation, so that Church life can continue. And the guarantee of the Holy Ghost does imply that there shall always be those with the authority and power to act.
Usually, one would think that such a fall from Grace was only possible with some small number of persons, some tiny minority, a single priest here or a single bishop there, but recall the Arian crisis in which it was the other way around, and only a miniscule handful of clerics were not among those "berserkers" using their supposed authority to deceive the whole of mankind in the ancient Roman empire. The Pope of the era was in confinement so no one knew for sure what he had to say, or what of his sayings were free versus being the result of subterfuge, maneuvering, or coercion, or even outright forgeries. And again, recall how nearly every cleric in England fell into error. It is not valid to say that "Oh well, that was only England; the rest of the world was still doing just fine," since there is no guarantee that the same thing could not happen the whole world over, but only that even should that happen it would be as it was in England that at least some few clerics would be the exceptions who keep the Faith and exercise jurisdiction, and they would indeed have enough jurisdiction to put things right.
As we know, these situations righted themselves eventually, and in the meantime, there always remained those few who were true to their delegated mission. So things are today. Once again, nearly every cleric has been sucked into devoting their misdirected efforts into spreading error and heresy, and the few true bishops are as hidden as the Pope of old. And as of old it is for those few true bishops to be the ones to act.
The Novus Ordo "conciliar church" can make no real claim to any visible succession let alone delegation from God or His Church. That was the whole point and purpose of Vatican II, where they got together and formally and legally renounced their formerly held Divine appointments and responsibilities, and all obligations to present the true face of God to the world. As I have already explained their action in my book The Resurrection of the Roman Catholic Church and in previous articles, I will not further repeat that here.
Rather, what I want to focus on is the condition of the real Church today, the traditional Catholic community as it exists today under the auspices of the various traditional orders, SSPX, SSPV, CMRI, Trento Priests and others, what few and fading fast remaining old-time "independents" who remain alive (e. g. Fathers Schoonbroodt, Campbell, Charles-Roux), and even some with the various Indult orders. It is even more paramount when one considers we lost two standout traditional priest in November - Father James Wathen and Father Lawrence Brey.
As traditional Catholics, we abhor all heresy, no exceptions. The whole point of having our traditional bishops, priests, seminaries, congregations, appeals, books, articles, conferences, and our stand for true and authentic Catholic worship (the traditional Mass) is all about our stand with Peter and the visible Church and all that he and it stand for, and which the Novus Ordo "conciliar church" along with all other heretics and schismatics has so conspicuously abandoned.
Indeed, it is a far more legitimate question to ask if the Novus Ordo "conciliar church" would even qualify as a "visible" organization. True, having stolen nearly all the material and personnel resources of the Church they still may well retain some considerable vestige of that truly visible quality the true Church eternally possesses, but the reality is far more thin and threadbare than many might think.
Their whole structure is increasingly inverted. Parish "lay committees" get together to decide whether "Father's" next service is going to feature clowns or dancing girls. Various commissions of these "presiders" get together to decide which direction their next leaders will take. Even their ostensible leader Benedict XVI cannot act without permission from his supposed "underlings" and "bishop's congresses."
And it gets worse. What is the real "chain of command" over there, if any? No one knows, least of all those personally involved with it. Mysterious "orders" to destroy yet another historic church just come through from "nowhere." No one can account for where they came from, as fingers point in all directions and no one stands up to be counted as the one who mandated it. With all this hierarchical inversion, did this come up from the parishioners? They never asked for it, and in fact almost universally protest against it. From the top down? "We're not telling anybody what to do," their "bishops" state. "What can I possibly do about it?" their Novus Ordo presiders announce their frustration with the fact that the matter is so entirely out of their hands. So where does it all come from? No one knows. Even those in the conciliar church who know the vandalism to be categorically wrong yet nevertheless seem to feel compelled to go along with this unknown and undocumented "demand." They are all powerless to stop this mysterious juggernaut.
Most bizarre and sinister of all, consider the vernacular translations of their Novus Ordo service. Has anyone but me noticed this very strange, and again altogether unaccountable, pattern to it all? Namely, the fact that even though the Latin text of the Novus Ordo still retains the Catholic Mass "pro multis" (for many), virtually every vernacular translation has its language's equivalent to "pro omnibus" (for all)? And again, though the Latin text of the Novus Ordo service merely transferred the phrase "Mysterium Fidei" to the end of the sentence (which only attenuates its emphasis), every vernacular puts it in a new sentence with the leading phrase "Let us now proclaim..." and then follows it with the option of several different "proclaimations" (some of which deny the doctrine of transubstantiation), or the particular language's equivalent. These are not mere English vernacular idiosyncrasies! What secret text did they all really use?
I once put this question to Father Stephen Somerville. After all, he had been there; he had had a ringside seat to the whole thing. And yet even he could not explain it. Somehow, what it all came down to: it all just inexplicably seemed to be "the thing to do," so they just made that mistranslation, and then moved on, apparently unaware that the same thing was being done in practically every vernacular translation being prepared at the same time for all the different languages. Weird. Spooky. Clearly, there must be some altogether invisible chain of command actually at work there, the mark of an invisible organization.
Ergo, I have here just yet one more reason I can deny that the modernist Vatican institution has any claim to being still the Church, namely the fact that they are not even a visible organization in the first place, and so again doctrinally cannot be the Visible Church. They are in fact now no different (canonically and ontologically speaking) no different from the East Orthodox, the Anglican church, the Lutheran church, the Methodist church, or the Presbyterian church. After all, they attempted to use Vatican II to make these other churches their equal, and in so doing instead rendered themselves equal to all these others.
However, I have digressed. My real concern is not what the Novus Ordo is doing, nor the Protestants or other religions, nor even the world of secular politics. My concern is with the Church, the real visible Church that is, the traditional Catholic community taken as a whole, is doing. And I do have some concerns. While the Vatican leaders continue to erode, vandalize, and dismantle that vast infrastructure they stole from the Church, which the Church had built up over nearly two thousand years, what have the true lawful and visible successors of the Apostles been doing?
Invisibilism is as much a heresy as the false Vatican II "ecumenism" and "religious liberty" and as such every bit as much to be abhorred, and I have no doubt that all true traditional Catholics must share that abhorrence. And yet, and yet... I wonder sometimes.
Having thrown all heresy out the front door, might there not be some pure Invisiblism creeping in through the back door? I have already seen two instances of us traditional Catholics being accused of advocating or being part of or favoring the idea of an "invisible church," one made to me in a private email, and another I happened across in passing in a blog somewhere. Obviously such mockers of God and His holy Church can be justly disregarded, but then again one also gets messages like the following (excerpted from an actual email sent to me some months ago):
I am a member of the Underground Church, a collection of priests and faithful who attend only the Latin Tridentine Mass of their fathers to sacrificially atone for the sins of the world. This is done as a teaching platform to encourage participants to make their lives a sacrificial atonement for the sins of the world, because if you don't live it, you don't believe it.
We, like the earliest converts of the Apostles, call ourselves "Followers of the Way," as in "I am the WAY, the Truth and the Life,...") and firmly believe that the Church is within, that each of us when properly submitting ourselves in fiat to God's will, as did Mary, is a cathedral to Him far greater than St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
While we may join in sacrificial atonement for others in the Tridentine rite, it can only be honored by God if the Mass is an extension of our temple of sacrifice within. --As above, so below; as within, so without (the Mass). Unity.
I understand in advance if you are reluctant to hear this message because it is so 'different.' Yet it is the message of the Holy Spirit through Christ and through His Apostles. It was men who wanted to serve themselves that made institutional churches instead of glorifying God through the only church He cares about: the temple within.
No doubt, the current lack of unity within the Church today, coupled with the gross abuse of what little vestige of any semblance of authority remains within the Vatican institution, can sometimes cause people to want to throw in the towel, resign to the current state of affairs, and resign themselves to such a position. The prospect of having to rebuild that tremendous infrastructure almost from scratch is indeed a most daunting task. But the dauntingness of a task is the concern of the slothful. Obviously, the restoration of such an infrastructure will take anywhere from 500 to 1,000 years, but the commitment to get to work on that begins now. Those who take such an "out" as illustrated above should get on their knees in repentance and confess their sin to a priest, for they are as much heretics as the Novus ordoites.
As Catholics, we have no right to such a position, and indeed the heresy of Invisibilism has in very few places been so clearly and explicitly expressed, and in its pure form, with no need of any attendant heresy. Especially the part about it being merely "men who wanted to serve themselves that made institutional churches instead of glorifying God" as though the Church was not meant to be instituted as a visible Body, the Body of Christ. But this is not the only place one sees this happening.
A couple weeks ago, I was reviewing the classic Catholic Catechism, My Catholic Faith, by Bishop Louis LaRavoire Morrow, and I just about cried as I encountered the following passage: "Authority in some form is necessary for every organization; without it members could not be directed to their common purpose." What makes this important is what organization are we talking about, what members, and what common purpose? No mere organization but the Mystical Body of Christ, not just some people but the stones of the living cathedral, cells of the Mystical Body, and the purpose that of Christ, of saving souls and restoring all things in Christ. Where is that authority being wielded today? The very few remaining bishops who even possess it seem altogether unaware of the prerogatives and responsibilities bestowed upon them.
There are still many Catholics who wonder why the Vatican does not return to the Faith (and to the visible Church in our traditional bishops), might it not be ourselves who are really at fault? We hardly can be credited with giving them much of something palpable and clear to return to. For the Faith is not merely about having the right doctrine, the right practices, or even worshipping God as God directs (we are unquestionably good at these things), but also about being incorporated into the visible Body of Christ so as to function as His members in accomplishing His will. How much has our traditional leadership done this? How much have they even labored to make clear and visible the Church whose visible hierarchical members they in fact are the sole remaining? How much have we lay faithful supported and encouraged them in doing this? The fingers of accusation point most importantly to ourselves. We get our own little Mass and sacraments and then get on with our own little secular life, hopefully staying free from mortal sin, but still accomplishing little or nothing for the Kingdom of God, and our priests allow this. Our clergy busy themselves with providing sacraments and training seminarians (both very important functions to be sure) never once lifting their heads to look at the larger situation and recognize each other, and subsequently begin acting in concert to unify the one flock.
"Fanatics," ordered to a common purpose, united in obedience to one single living authority, have accomplished all the Church's greatest deeds. But fanatics who operate on their own each provide one little kick in whatever direction appeals to them, but their splash is soon over and ultimately of little to no consequence. Here we all are, ready, willing and eager to be such fanatics, but with no one to follow. Let one truly orthodox and valid bishop reign supreme, as indeed that is what constitutes "Peter" to the Church, and all that is truly Catholic shall at least eventually submit to him in justly rendered obedience.
If anything holds us back, from re-attaining the commonly recognized mainstream that is rightfully ours, of evangelizing people, peoples, and nations, from truly rebuilding the Church and restoring all things in Christ, it is our lack of this leadership and unity. Even providing the Vatican group with someone to abjure their error, impart faculties to them, and give them someone to submit to should they repent their error, requires this same thing. "Peter" is always with us real Catholics, even if only latently as happens with all papal vacancies, let us work towards providing "Peter" to a fallen world long bereft of his voice.