Somebody once asked me an intriguing question. She simply wrote, "What is your function?" It is a good question we all should think about some time or another, and perhaps should review from time to time as we go through life. For myself, the answer I came up with is this:
- 1) To help people find the actual and authentic Catholic Church (and thereby God),
- 2) To filter out the truth from the sea of misinformation and disinformation,
- 3) To articulate for any and all precisely what the Holy Ghost has been whispering in the center of each person's heart,
- 4) To provide hope for those who despair of the Church today,
- 5) To provide guidance and other helpful information,
- 6) To inspire people to be at their best, as God would have them be,
- 7) To do my small part in restoring all things in Christ,
- 8) To do my small part in uniting the flock under the One Shepherd,
- 9) To bring peace and reconciliation to those who love Truth,
- 10) To wage war against those who will have no peace,
- 11) To manifest the charity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
How does one do these things? In my case, a significant part of that "how" is bound up in having what I have here for the first time seen fit to call a "theological map." I hope the title has caught your eye and made you wonder, "Just what in the world is a theological map?" It is my intention that by the time you finish reading this you should have a very good idea what a "theological map" is and why it is so very important.
Indeed, from my point of view, you should be asking "How did I get along without a theological map for so long?" What amazes me is how traditional Catholics have somehow managed to muddle through these times even as well as they have (not all that well, if you ask me, which you didn't) while wandering in the dark, not knowing where they are, altogether without any theological map, or worse still, with some gravely faulty and incorrect map.
Usually, when you think of a map, you think of a drawing of some sort that shows the arrangement of some physical area, for example a town. If you want to know where Maple Street is, you can look at the map and see. If you are familiar enough with the town, then you already know how to find Maple Street, and furthermore can find it from any part of town. All that has happened when you have reached this point is that the paper (or computer, etc.) map has been incorporated into your own brain, into your mind. At this point, you cease needing a map to hold in your hands because you now hold it in your mind. But it still serves the same purpose. So how would this analogy apply to theology?
To be a Catholic does in part require us to have some understandable and visible communion with the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. A theological map is what we have in our head (since none of these are being printed) to help us know just where, exactly, we stand. It tells us first of all precisely where the Church is. More importantly to our own case, it tells us where we are in relation to the Church. As a much more distant third to these important pieces of information, it also tells us where all the various particular others are in relation to the Church.
Pre-Vatican II Theological Map
For a good illustration of what this is like, or should be like, let us go back to the pre-Vatican II days when the present crisis simply did not as yet exist. To be a Catholic "in good standing" back in 1950 was something readily attainable to anyone willing to commit themselves to that goal. So what would any Catholic's theological map have looked like back then?
Any individual Catholic knew then (from his inner theological map) that he belongs to the parish of Such-and-such a town, with Fr. So-and-so as pastor, spiritual director, and guide through all the tough times, in the Diocese of So-such-and-such under His Excellency Bishop So-such-and-so, and all under the universal sovereignty of His Holiness Pope So-such-so-and-so. See what all that means? He knows where the Church is. He also knows precisely what his place in the Church is. Both he and his priest know if he is in good standing with the Church. And he need only inquire of his own conscience to know whether he is in a state of Grace.
The catechumen or convert, seeking to join the Church also has a theological map in his mind, such that he too knows not only where the Church is, but also where he is in relation to it. He knows that he stands on the porch, knocking on the door in order that it may open so that he may enter in. And when Fr. officially receives him into the Church, whether by baptizing him or by a general absolution and acceptance into the Church (in the case of one already validly baptized elsewhere), he knows that he has entered the Church and like all other Catholics in good standing knows his place therein.
Our first Pope, St. Peter wrote to all the Churches, "Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:3-5)
Stones scattered in a field do not comprise any kind of house, but are mere stones scattered in a field. It is only once the stones have been fitted and inserted into the physical structure of the house, each stone becomes a part of the house. With the mortar of unity and submission are the living stones of God's spiritual house the Church fitted together and each stone has a specific place in that spiritual house. It has other particular stones it resides upon, under, next to, or otherwise near to. This is how God's Own Church is meant to be built up, not as some vague assemblage of persons like a mere pile of rocks among piles of rocks.
This is what the visible unity of the Church is all about. How could any lone rock, out in the field somewhere, be regarded as any part of the spiritual house? At most, that could only be in some invisible spiritual sense. While God can most certainly have mercy on any soul of good will in any circumstance (implicit Baptism of Desire), that is no place for a baptized Catholic in good standing before God and Man, or indeed for anyone who knows precisely where he stands.
So, a theological map is that which identifies for us God's spiritual house, and which furthermore identifies exactly which stone in it we personally are (and also which stone any other member of that spiritual house is). Perhaps by now you begin to see the importance of the thing.
Post-Vatican II Map
All of that being the case however, what are we as Catholics to make of the post-Vatican II Catholic milieu? Where is the Church, and what is our relationship to it? What is, or should be, our theological map, now? In my observation, the vast majority of actual Catholics (read: traditional Catholics, or authentic Catholics) have gotten by thus far with either a seriously flawed and incomplete theological map, or else without any theological map whatsoever.
Without a theological map however, or even with one, if it is defective and/or incomplete, you don't know where the Church is, and more importantly, you don't know where you are. There is a word for those who don't know where they are, and that word is "lost." Do you as a Catholic feel "lost"? Perhaps it is when Catholics feel thus "lost" that refuge is then taken in conspiracy theories, prophetic speculation, angry rants, salacious gossip, and humorously vacuous excommunications. It's a good thing that being "lost" in this sense is at least somewhat removed from being "lost" in the sense of being hell-bound. There are those who don't even know where they are, and yet they do not fear to judge where someone else is? A person who knows the truth has the peace that comes from knowing.
So, once upon a time, all was peace and order, as every Catholic knew where the Church was and where he fit into it. But as we all know, "well enough" could not be "left alone." Along comes Vatican II and the waters are significantly muddied, leaving everyone wondering where they stand. The map can be no longer be quite so simple anymore, and it could be decades at least, if not centuries, before the previous simpler map will ever apply again.
Before diving into the specifics of what that map now has to be, let us briefly review some of the alternatives there are out there. All of these alternatives suffer from significant problems, first and foremost being flat wrong.
Home-Aloners: Who needs a theological map?
The first and simplest scenario I will consider here is that of simply getting along without any such map at all. In this scenario there is no visible Church (or at least none as can be found anywhere), so in turn there can be no relationship between us and the Church. This is the explicit view and belief of the heretical home-aloner, and (I think) subconsciously shared by many, though clearly not all, absolute sedevacantists.
The heretical home-aloner position amounts to the Church simply having ceased to exist as a visible or institutional organization, and (presumably) Catholicism now consists only of scattered individual laymen doing what best they can in a complete lack of any ecclesiastical infrastructure whatsoever. I have already written about this before in my article Canonical Pessimism, but to that I can add that this position in effect eliminates the Grace of God and obliges its adherents to try to save themselves in their own limited human power. Instead of God saving us (through the work and activity of His Church) we try to save ourselves, doing the best we can with nothing but simple water baptism (and marriage), as all that mere laity (all that's left in this scenario) can do by way of procuring the Sacraments.
Such a view is quite destructive, even catastrophic, for it atomizes the Church. As Jesus prophesied about the Temple of His day, "not one stone here shall be left upon another" (St. Matthew 24:2), and in this view there is no way the Church shall ever exist again. Even worse, it renders all "truly orthodox believing Catholics of good will" merely united to the Church in intent, that is, invisibly. With the whole Church thus rendered invisible, that would be a major change indeed, far more vast than doctrinally possible.
Unhappily, even some sedevacantists who are not home-aloners seem to share a similar view. Though they have managed to convince themselves that the obligation to receive all the sacraments (as applicable) outweighs any obligation to shy away from any minister whose canonical status is, as one might see it, uncertain at best, they too see the Church as utterly without visibility, and totally atomized, with each individual Catholic having to be his own rule of faith.
Such a view also distorts one's reception of the sacraments. In it, a sacrament merely becomes some procedural detail, some "thing" to get under one's belt, as if the sacraments were like so many forms and references and signatures and photographs and fingerprint searches one gathers as necessary to apply for a passport, to immigrate, or for a City or State job. Complimentary to this role of sacraments in one's life, the clergy who provide them end up becoming little more than a kind of "sacrament vending machine" with no real pastoral responsibility for those who rely on them for the Sacraments.
By now it should be clear that such a view ought to be totally intolerable for any real Catholic to accept for any period of time. This is in fact a total lack of having any theological map whatsoever. Or else it is a map in which all one has on it is a dot in the middle and one says, "this is me, and that's all there is." But of course many sedevacantists (and non-sedevacantist Catholics) have more than that of a theological map. Let's look at the next scenario.
The Formaliter-Materialiter Sedevacantist Map
The Formaliter-materialiter sedevacantist has quite a bit more on their map. They, along with a lot of others, for various other mistaken reasons, equate the Church, or at least some rudimentary physical visible institutional aspect of it, to the present day Vatican apparatus. In the case of the Formaliter-materialiter sedevacantist he sees the Vatican apparatus as a kind of "body" of the Church, now quite moribund and utterly without the Spirit of Christ, indeed quite antithetical to Christ's Spirit. Then somewhere, off to the side somewhere, is where they are to be found, namely those who represent the Spirit of Christ and who abide in that Spirit or Soul.
What that really does is put the Body over here, and the Spirit or Soul over there, utterly separated from each other. Wherever body and soul are separated from each other, that is a condition known as "death." Are you all that ready to claim that the Church is dead? That Christ is dead? That God is dead? If the one can die, then so can the other. That is one necessary implication of such a scenario. Another is the problem of where one is oneself. Obviously, in that scenario one cannot be a member of the visible Body of Christ and expect to be saved (except by having invincible ignorance and being somehow of good will towards God and man despite all the bad will being taught and exampled therein).
This means that they have to place themselves somewhere else. Where? That is the problem with such a view. Not only does it err in equating the Vatican apparatus with the Church (at least in its visible institutional sense), but also it provides one with no real relationship with the Church, and again one ends up being united to it only by invisible bonds of charity (at best). This means that the "truly orthodox believing Catholics of good will" must now all be "outside the Church" in order to be saved and cannot afford to be members of the Church while yet in this life. That status differs little from one who has only a "Baptism of Desire" to unite them to the Church. In effect, one only becomes a member of the Church at the point of death, when one transfers directly from an earthly life of non-membership in the Church to either the Church Suffering or the Church Triumphant.
So what kind of map is that? One in which there is this dead institutional body over there, and you somewhere outside it, anywhere, nowhere. Who knows? And what role does such a theological map afford any clergy? It seems to me that it differs not at all from the role of clergy in the absolute sedevacantist sense of being mere "sacrament vending machines" one goes to in order to procure sacraments, instead of rightful and duly authorized pastors of our souls who are responsible for us and will answer for us. This is a map that again has a dot in the middle, of which "this is me" and the only difference is that somewhere else, off to some side and without any connection to the dot in the middle that is "me" is some hierarchical pyramid that has no real relevance to my present spiritual condition, other than the fact that I dare not join up with it if I value my immortal soul.
One variation I have come across has it that the Vatican apparatus, rather than being like a corpse, is instead like a demon-possessed person. But if the Mystical Body of Christ could ever become demon-possessed, how is that different from the scenario Jesus Himself personally being demon-possessed? That is what the Pharisees said of Him, that He was a Samaritan and had a devil. (St. John 8:48) I would rather not be joined to the company of those who said that of our Lord. There is of course no room to deny that the demons truly are in charge at Vatican City, and have been so since Vatican II, but to say that much carries with it a significant implication that I will explore later on.
Resist and Recognize Map
Next comes those who take various resistance positions. These too, exactly like the Formaliter-materialiter sedevacantist, must place themselves in an unknown location in relation to what they mistakenly equate with the visible Church. In this case of course, it is that supposed "church" that has in fact booted them out. Think of when they pretended to excommunicate the SSPX bishops. Even with that “excommunication” language withdrawn, the SSPX bishops and clergy still have no canonical place in the Vatican apparatus. So again, as a result, their "map" differs not at all from that of the Formaliter-materialiter sedevacantist, in that again they are a dot in the middle, attached to nothing, with the pyramid of some phantom hierarchy off to the side somewhere.
The Motarian/Indult Map
Finally, the Indultarian (now "Motarian") has what is at least a pleasing map for where his place is, for his priest is of the "diocese of X," under Bishop Y who is in open union with and submission to His 'Holiness' Pope Z. A nice "pastoral" picture indeed! No wonder some Catholics have caved and returned to it. As long as one is committed to believing that the present-day Vatican apparatus has any special rank or position with regards the Church, this really must seem the inevitable direction one must take.
But it is a lie. For to equate the present-day Vatican apparatus with the visible Mystical Body of Christ is a great blasphemy indeed. Not that most of those making this blasphemous mistake maliciously intend blasphemy, but unintentionally that is exactly what it cannot escape being. Really, the whole traditional Catholic cause stands or falls with this basic question. Can the current Vatican apparatus actually still be the Catholic Church, even in merely some visible legal and organizational or institutional sense?
If it is, then the whole of Christianity itself has been falsified, for then it would mean that the Church that Christ founded can sin, is flawed, is not a reliable rule of Faith, leads souls into perdition, and in the end, can be of only accidental value, at best. Is that what He came to do? Is that what He suffered and died to provide to the world that the Father loved so much? It is one thing for individual churchmen to fail, to sin, to scandalize many, and that has often occurred throughout the ages. But this was always in their individual private lives (or at most, public lives while doubling in the role of politicians). The Church, as an organization, in its official teachings and pronouncements, could never mislead, never betray, never destroy souls. As with the Pharisees of old, you could always be safe doing as they told, even when you could be damned for following their example. Once Vatican II occurred, you could not even be safe doing what they told. With that, the last vestige of any reason to have a visible Church seems to have evaporated.
So many promises God made to His Church so obviously and patently do not apply to today's Vatican apparatus at all. Its leader is highly fallible, where a pope is infallible. It leads souls to perdition through its official policies where the Church could never do so. It destroys Faith, mandates destruction, spreads confusion, and again all through its official policies, which the Church never could, and in no other age ever has. Every Pope is a valid and living "rule of Faith," but the recent and current Vatican leadership (?) is in no way any valid "rule of Faith." So even though the "Motarian" may find some occasional little corners of it that seem orthodox and valid enough (there are such, I readily admit), and even though he may be fortunate enough to have easy and convenient recourse to such a "corner," the fact is that while there, he is a Catholic member of what is, in its foundational principles and self-definition, a non-Catholic organization.
It doesn't do to close one's eyes and act like a gangster's moll who ignores the terrible crimes of the gangster, merely because the gangster is good to her personally. Yes, he may even treat her nice and buy her expensive jewelry and minks and take her to the fanciest places in town, but at the same time he is ordering his henchmen to hang up his enemies (policemen, members of rival gangs, members of his own gang that talk) alive on meat hooks to die slowly and painfully, committing robbery, killing men with families, and so forth.
For all sorts of powerful and morally compelling reasons, one cannot accept the "Motarian" theological map, for it is a deception. So now let's take a look at the actual map, the actual "lay of the land," or "bigger picture," as I variously call it in other places.
First of all, what exactly are we now to make of the Vatican apparatus, now that it is no longer the visible Church? After all, it still exists. It still has some vague semblance of structure and hierarchy to it. Perhaps in the past I have been a bit less than clear about this point: Is it a "church" or something else, say, a secular nation, group, or club? If we had to define it carefully and strictly, this is what it is: It may think of itself as a "church," but in this it deceives itself and its followers. It is a human and secular nation, exactly like any other nation. Now, what about the "religious" aspects of it? Many secular nations have a perfectly similar such "religious" aspect to them. In bygone eras, most nations had an established religion. In these days, one seldom finds that anymore, except among the Islamic nations. But all other nations at least still have at least some "religious" aspect, however far less than these, and sometimes not at all any less, such as the avowedly Atheist communist nations.
Even here, the United States of America has a religion, albeit a "gentler, kinder" religion, namely one of toleration (but no official recognition of) any and all "religions," no matter how obviously whimsical, artificial, or contrived. In this "American" religion, if I were to decide to worship my kitchenware, then I have an absolute constitutional right to do so. And that religion (of my kitchenware) would have absolutely no less or different standing in the eyes of the Law of this land than Catholicism, Protestantism, or anything else. That itself is the American national religion (universal toleration of any and all possible "religions," not my kitchenware, that is!).
The Vatican nation has a state religion, otherwise known as the Novus Ordo. That is it's own (native) religion. We can compare that with some Islamic nation for which Islam is its state religion. Are all citizens of said Islamic nation Moslems? No. Even many of the most extreme have historically permitted there to be at least some certain small and isolated communities within them of Jews and Christians and others. Furthermore, as with any other secular nation, one's being a citizen of that nation has no relevance as to whether one is a Catholic or not. So one could be a Catholic as a member of it (as I believe that many "Motarians" are, as were the same such many "Indultarians" before), exactly as those Catholics outside it (SSPX, "independent," sedevacantist). And likewise one could be a non-Catholic member of it (not only those who follow their "State church" of Novus Ordoism but also all the others in them such as "Liberation Theology" communists or ecumenical blends of Novus Ordoism with various other religions), exactly as there are also any number of non-Catholics outside it (Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, etc.).
It's exactly like some nation. Pick any nation. For this example let me pick my own, the United States of America. Being an American citizen does not make me a Catholic, nor does it make me a non-Catholic. And that includes even if I pay my taxes, and if some of those taxes are unlawfully misdirected to the killing and medical exploitation of innocent unborn human life. I think the precedent here is that ancient Catholics who were citizens of the ancient pagan Roman nation also paid their taxes, even when they and others were being tortured to death by them in the various persecutions, wars, and what not. There is no obligation that any secular nation be wholly good, if indeed any ever attained such a status, only that it succeeds in imposing more order than if it did not exist at all.
How did the Vatican apparatus get this way? All nations consist of certain structures of authority, of judicial forums, and so forth. The Divine Nation has always been like that too, and indeed what has always set it apart is that it alone can validly claim absolute identity with the Mystical Body of Christ. Up until Vatican II the Vatican nation, including all of its official representatives all around the world, was one and the same as the Mystical Body of Christ. When it acted, it was one and the same as Christ acting, for whatever they bound or loosed on earth became bound or loosed in Heaven. It was the Divine Nation.
I am not going to reiterate here how the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium changed all that, nor how we even have on hand a clear historical precedent by which the conventional structures of the Church became (without any apparent immediate change) the conventional structures of a mere secular power, and my editor has already gathered up the relevant set of articles for these two vital subjects in Down the Yellow Brick Road to Apostasy: the Lumen Gentium Syndrome. So ontologically, one can know from that formal declaration and redefinition of themselves as an organization that with the promulgation of that document, the Vatican nation ceased to be identical to the Divine Nation, and thereby took its place among all the other secular nations of the world.
Does the Catholic Church subsist in it? Of course it does. The Catholic Church also subsists in the United States of America, and the United States of Mexico, and Venezuela, and Brazil, and Bolivia, and Argentina, and New Zealand, and Australia, and the Philippines, and Japan, and India, and Russia and Iraq and Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia and Chad and Rwanda and Kenya and South Africa and Nigeria and Italy and France and Germany and the British Isles and Canada, and indeed any nation within which there exists so much as a single Catholic. It subsists in all of these nations (and many others not named simply for lack of space), and along with these, in the Vatican nation as well, in exactly the same sense. The Church "subsists" wherever it exists, wherever it is found, wherever so much as "any two or three are gathered in My name." And the Church hierarchical is found wherever any traditional cleric is found.
Next week, I will address the traditional course that best follows the Theological Map.