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The Airplane Magisterium and Its Consequences

by Christopher A. Ferrara
July 11, 2016

In my last column before a brief hiatus (to attend the important Roman Forum Conference at Lake Garda, Italy), I promised further discussion of Pope Francis’ latest scandalous  inflight press conference, this time on the return to Rome from an utterly pointless (and needlessly expensive) trip to Armenia.

At the risk of being facetious, it would appear that at this point in the Bergoglian pontificate one can speak of a Rule of Bergoglio: No Papal Press Conference Shall Be Without at Least One Major Error Against the Faith. 

This time we had the following whopper concerning Luther, who literally invented the Protestant religion in a rebellion that destroyed the unity of Christendom but which Francis proposes to “commemorate” this October: “Today Protestants and Catholics agree on the doctrine of justification: he [Luther] was not wrong on this very important point.”

If one wished to compile a Top Ten List of Bergoglian bloopers and blunders, this one would make the list. If Luther was right about justification, then the Catholic Church was wrong and she would have erred in the exercise of her infallible magisterium at the Council of Trent. Trent infallibly anathematized Luther’s heresy of “justification by faith alone” without any freely willed and meritorious cooperation with grace on the part of the justified individual (which the Church terms the cooperatio) but only a “merely passive” acceptance. Trent also condemned Luther’s correlative heresy that even after justification there is no inward regeneration or sanctification of the one justified but rather a continuing “total depravity” that God merely covers over with an imputed (but not actual) righteousness.  According to Luther, the one who is “saved by faith alone” is simul iustus et peccator: justified and sinner at the same time.

The Catholic Church has never reached any “agreement” with Protestants that Luther’s heresies concerning justification were “not wrong.”  Here Francis seems to be relying upon some vague recollection of the worthless, utterly non-binding 1999 “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” between the Pontifical Council for the Promotion (read: Prevention) of Christian Unity, falsely billed as “the Catholic Church,” and the wacky Lutheran World Federation of pro-abortion, pro-contraception, pro-divorce, pro-homosexual, pro-“gay marriage” and pro-women’s ordination sects.  This document quite absurdly declares: “The teaching of the Lutheran churches presented in this Declaration does not fall under the condemnations from the Council of Trent.”

Utter nonsense.  Moreover, a flat out lie.  Confronted with this lie, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) under John Paul II was forced to issue a “Response of the Catholic Church” to the Joint Declaration which denies any such “agreement.”  Consider the irony: The Joint Declaration purports to represent the position of “the Catholic Church” while the CDF provides a response of the Catholic Church to “the Catholic Church.”  Just another example of the diabolical disorientation of the post-conciliar epoch in which the head of the Church’s human element is at war with the tail.

In its “Official Response” the CDF takes aim at paragraph 4.4 of the Joint Declaration, entitled “The Justified as Sinner.”  First of all, invoking Trent, the CDF cautions that

the Decree on Justification of the Council of Trent… states that man can refuse grace; but it must also be affirmed that, with this freedom to refuse, there is also a new capacity to adhere to the divine will, a capacity rightly called ‘cooperatio.’ This new capacity given in the new creation, does not allow us to use in this context the expression ‘mere passive’ [Joint Declaration, n. 21].

Next, the CDF targets the error of a merely imputed righteousness, once again invoking the Council of Trent:

from a Catholic point of view the title [The Justified as Sinner] is already a cause of perplexity. According, indeed, to the doctrine of the Catholic Church, in baptism everything that is really sin is taken away, and so, in those who are born anew there is nothing that is hateful to God. It follows that the concupiscence that remains in the baptised is not, properly speaking, sin.
For Catholics, therefore, the formula “at the same time righteous and sinner”, as it is explained at the beginning of n. 29 (“Believers are totally righteous, in that God forgives their sins through Word and Sacrament ...Looking at themselves ... however, they recognize that they remain also totally sinners. Sin still lives in them...”), is not acceptable…. This statement does not, in fact, seem compatible with the renewal and sanctification of the interior man of which the Council of Trent speaks….
[I]t remains difficult to see how, in the current state of the presentation, given in the Joint Declaration, we can say that this doctrine on “simul iustus et peccatoris not touched by the anathemas of the Tridentine decree on original sin and justification.

In short, as the CDF puts it: “The Catholic Church is, however, of the opinion that we cannot yet speak of a consensus such as would eliminate every difference between Catholics and Lutherans in the understanding of justification.”  That’s putting it very, very mildly.  The differences that cannot be eliminated are precisely the heresies that Trent anathematized.  Nothing has changed in this regard, despite the Joint Declaration’s attempt to paper over differences with ambiguous language, forcing the CDF to step in.  Yet Francis appears oblivious to this reality and blithely declares that Luther was right — thus, in effect, justifying Luther’s entire rebellion, which was founded precisely on his heresies concerning justification.

What are we to make of a Pope who continually and recklessly undermines the foundations of the Faith with off-the-cuff remarks uttered to reporters as part of a bizarre Airplane Magisterium? One can only suppose that the Bergoglian pontificate represents the final extremity, or very close to the final extremity, of an ecclesial crisis like no other in Church history — a crisis whose solution, at this point, seems impossible without the most dramatic of divine interventions, with probable serious consequences for all of humanity.