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Sacrament and Papal Teaching Authority

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

We have seen at some length how the first major crisis on papal authority arose with the rise of Protestantism. We might almost say that, at the heart of Protestantism, is an organized protest against the the teaching authority of the Bishop of Rome. Once the Protestant leaders deny that Christ had founded a visible church, they logically concluded that the only divinely established visible authority on earth is the State. For almost five hundred years people in countries like the United States have accepted the state as the final arbitrer of morality. Once our supreme court decreed that the murder of unborn children is legal, millions of Americans accepted this teaching as the law of God.

By the beginning of the seventeenth century, many professed Catholic’s were seduced by the errors of Protestantism. This included not a few bishops. The most famous was Cornelius Jansen, (1585-1638) professor of theology and bishop of Ypres.

Jansenious lived and died with the reputation of being a Roman Catholic. In reality he was a Calvinist. at the heart of the papal teaching over the centuries has been the existence of both the grace that comes from God and the free choice that comes from our will. Jansenius gave lip service to human liberty. Like John Calvin he claimed we are saved only by God’s predestination.

Those reach heaven who receive the grace to be saved. They are the divinely predestined. No one else reaches heaven. Jansenius spent a life time writing one book called “Augustinus”, which is simply the Latin for Augustine. According to Jansenius, man’s free will is incapable of any moral goodness. All man’s actions proceed either from concupiscence, or from heavenly desire, which are produced by grace. Each exercise an urgent influence on the human will, which in consequence of its lack of freedom always follows the pressure of the stronger desire. Implicit in Jansenism is the denial of the supernatural order, the possibility of either rejection or acceptance of grace.

Accordingly those who receive the grace will be save; they are the predestined. All others will be lost.

Jansenism was condemned as heretical in five major propositions by Pope Innocent X in 1653. It was recondemned by Pope Alexander VII in 1656, when Jansenists claimed that their doctrine was misrepresented. The later developments of Jansenism were built on the earlier foundations but went beyond them in a number of ways. Stress on God’s selective salvation produced a general harshness and moral rigorism, denying God’s mercy to all mankind. Disregard of papal teaching led to arbitrary attitude toward the use of the sacraments, notably reducing the frequency of penance and the Eucharist, and giving rise to Gallicanism, which denied papal primacy and infallibility. In 1794, Pope Pius VI condemned a series of eighty-five propositions of the Italian Jansenists led by Scipione de’Ricci, Bishop of Pidtoria and Prato. Among the propositions was the claim that the authority of the Church depends on the consent of its members and that the jurisdiction of a diocesan bishop is independent of the Pope. What is the lesson of Jansenism? It teaches us that some professed Catholics’ including bishops, can claim to belong to the Roman Catholic Church. But in practice they will follow the teaching of the bishop of their own diocese, who may be in open contradiction to the teaching of the Bishop of Rome.

In plain language Jansenism is just simply Episcopalians. On its terms the Episcopus (bishop) is the only authority in teaching matters of Faith and Morals. Catholic’s are considered papists, which is the nasty word coined by the Episcopalians in England to describe those who consider the pope to be the highest teaching authority in the church founded by Christ. To this day a standard definition of papist in the dictionary tells us, that papist, “POPE ,Roman Catholic used disparagingly.”

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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