Continuity or Contradiction:
Should Catholics “Respect” False Religions?
...the first indemonstrable principle is that "the same thing cannot be affirmed and denied at the same time,"... and on this principle all others are based...
Every familiarity should be avoided, not only with those impious libertines who openly promote the character of the sect, but also with those who hide under the mask of universal tolerance, respect for all religions, and the craving to reconcile the maxims of the Gospel with those of the revolution. These men seek to reconcile Christ and Belial...
We have a single goal and a shared intention, but we will pray in different ways, respecting one another’s religious traditions.
[The postconciliar authorities say that the false religions] don't have the “full communion.” Do they have any communion? What does it mean, a “part” of communion? It means nothing. It's the same as to say “2+2 makes 3. Oh you know, 3, that's a lot already. It's almost 4!” It doesn't matter. If you write “3” at your exam... you get a zero.
It is a foundational principle of St. Thomas Aquinas's philosophy — and indeed, of all reality — that contradictions cannot be simultaneously realized. “To be or not to be?” Hamlet asked, but note that he did not say “To be and not to be.” This latter phrase, in addition to being less poetic and less Shakespearean, would also have entailed a violation of the principle of non-contradiction, which very simply states a basic truth about all reality: The same thing, in the same respect, at the same time, cannot both be and not be. The same thing cannot be both affirmed and denied; contradictions cannot both be true. One is right and the other is wrong, but not both, and not neither. Not a very profound statement, a reader might object, but to paraphrase Chesterton's apt summation of our modern age, “the only thing common about common sense is that it's uncommon.”
With all of this in mind, we note that the principle of non-contradiction applies no less to our Catholic religion than it does to any other area of human interest. If the Church has ever authoritatively and definitively pronounced a certain proposition to be true, then she has pronounced it to be true for all time. This means that no one, no matter what may be his status or authority in the Church, may ever contradict or renege on that original truth. And yet a cursory glance at the barren wasteland which is the ongoing postconciliar crisis would reveal many current instances of contradiction with past teaching and praxis. In this piece we will consider one such contradiction, a prominent one stated or implied by the Second Vatican Council, the new Catechism, and at least two of the recent popes (including the present one). We will consider what the authorities say today, what the Church said previously, why the two cannot be reconciled, and why the prior teaching is correct (which means that the present view is wrong).
“Respect” for False Religions:
The new Catechism, Vatican II,
The contradiction in question involves the idea that Catholics ought to show respect, not only for non-Catholic people (which traditional Catholics do not deny), but also for non-Catholic religions. The new Catechism, published in 1992, puts it as follows:
"This duty [to seek the truth about God and His Church] derives from "the very dignity of the human person."...It does not contradict a "sincere respect" for different religions which frequently "reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men,"... [n. 2104].
The second quotation in the above reference cites Nostra Aetate, a document from the Second Vatican Council, which speaks in a similar vein of non-Catholic religions:
The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men [Nostra Aetate, n. 2].
Thus this document, like the new Catechism, plainly claims that the Catholic Church respects and “sincerely” reveres, not merely non-Catholic people, but also the very religions which they profess. And note it well: Nostra Aetate pointedly contends that the Church not only reveres those religions, but singles them out as revered “though differing in many aspects from [her own]” [n. 2].The phrasing seems almost to imply the claim that the Church “reveres” not merely the elements of truth, but the entirety of the non-Catholic religion, errors and all.
The current pope and his predecessor find nothing objectionable in these statements, but instead second them and make them their own. The introductory quote comes from John Paul II's address at the second of his two Assisi meetings, this one in 2002, where he explicitly states that “we” (including himself) will “[respect] one another's religious traditions.” The same theme recurs at various points throughout his pontificate, wherein he makes reference not only to non-Catholic people, but also to their non-Catholic religions. In his 2000 papal visit to the country of Jordan, he infamously asked that St. John the Baptist “protect Islam and all the people of Jordan.”(1) Note that he requests two protections, one for Jordanian people, another for the religion. Again, in a 1985 address, John Paul II told Moslems that “[t]he Catholic Church regards with respect... the richness of your spiritual tradition” (a “spiritual tradition” which incidentally rejects God's triune nature and Christ's divinity, both of which heresies have been solemnly condemned by the Church).(2)
In a 1986 visit to India, the pope once again claimed that “[t]he Church’s approach to other religions is one of genuine respect,” adding that this respect involves “respect for man in his quest for answers to the deepest questions of his life, and respect for the action of the Spirit in man.” Thus John Paul II implicitly claims that the Church “respects” religions which blaspheme and deny her Lord and reject His teaching, justifying this “respect” on the grounds that outraging Christ in this manner is merely an instance of man's “quest for answers” and, more strangely, the “action of the Spirit” in man.(3)Traditionalists can certainly agree with the pope that blaspheming Christ does indeed evince the influence of a certain “spirit,” specifically a demonic spirit.
Benedict XVI, depicted by the world's media as a fang-toothed theological Rottweiler bent on returning to the Church to the dreaded Dark Ages (when most people actually believed that there was an objective difference between truth and error), expresses himself similarly to John Paul II. In a September 2010 exhortation, Verbum Domini, he wrote as follows: “Here too I wish to voice the Church’s respect for the ancient religions and spiritual traditions of the various continents” [n. 119]. Again on 17 September 2010, this time during the papal visit to the U.K., the pope assured a group of non-Catholics that “the Catholic Church follows the path of engagement and dialogue out of a genuine sense of respect for you and your beliefs.” Note: respect for people and for their beliefs. Once more, he claims, as the belief of the Catholic Church, a respect for false, non-Catholic religions.
It is true that, for the purposes of converting non-Catholics, a Catholic might generally do well to refrain from mocking and ridiculing what non-Catholics hold as sacred. But this strategy does not stem from any real respect due to the false beliefs of those religions themselves; the denial of Christ's divinity, for instance, no matter how sincerely believed, does not deserve respect. Any avoidance of ridicule would proceed from respect for non-Catholic people and not for non-Catholic beliefs. Had John Paul II and Benedict XVI wished only to express this point, their words would merit less disagreement. But a careful examination of their words seems to reveal an insistence on respect for the false beliefs themselves and not merely for those who hold them.
We could likely multiply these and similar statements at some length, but these suffice: two recent popes, together with their catechism and their council, assert that not only they, but the Catholic Church herself actively respects and reveres false, non-Catholic religions whose teachings oppose her own. That they said this is not a matter of controversy, but rather a matter of simply reading their words. As the medievals said, there is no arguing against a fact (contra factum, non est argumentum).
False Religions According to Preconciliar Popes
How did Catholics, both the hierarchy and lay faithful, regard non-Catholic religions prior to the Second Vatican Council and the reign of Modernist relativism? We will consider what popes said, what saints said, what the apostles said, and what Christ Himself said about false religions.
While still an Anglican, the great English convert priest Fr. Frederick Faber met with Pope Gregory XVI. The pope addressed him as follows: “May the grace of God correspond to your good wishes, and deliver you from the nets of Anglicanism, and bring you to the true Holy Church.”(4) Gregory XVI therefore saw Anglicanism, not as something to be respected, but as something from which he wished Fr. Faber to be delivered. We would never seek to “deliver” people from a system worthy of “sincere reverence.”
Blessed Pius IX, in his famous Syllabus of Errors (to which then-Cardinal Ratzinger tendentiously stated there could be “no return,”(5) evidently conceding its incompatibility with his own views), condemned the following proposition as erroneous: “Protestantism is nothing else than a different form of the same true Christian religion, in which it is possible to please God as well as in the Catholic Church.”(6) In other words, Protestantism (or by extension, any non-Catholic religion) is not a form of the true religion which pleases God. Since it does not please God, but rather displeases Him, it is not worthy of respect.
We have already seen Pope Leo XIII's introductory statement, in an encyclical condemning Freemasonry, that “respect for all religions” is an error which seeks to place Christ alongside the demon Belial. In another encyclical, he speaks as follows:
For [t]he enemies of the Church have for their object-and they hesitate not to proclaim it, and many among them boast of it - to destroy outright, if possible, the Catholic religion, which alone is the true religion [Sapientiae Christianae, n. 34. My italics].
If the Catholic religion alone is true, as Pope Leo XIII says that it is, it follows necessarily that all others are false. But the object of the human intelligence is truth, not falsehood, and therefore the true religion alone deserves respect.
“Here it is well to note at once that, given this [Modernist] doctrine of experience... every religion, even that of paganism, must be held to be true. What is to prevent such experiences from being met within every religion?... Indeed Modernists do not deny but actually admit, some confusedly, others in the most open manner, that all religions are true. That they cannot feel otherwise is clear. For on what ground, according to their theories, could falsity be predicated of any religion whatsoever?” [Pascendi Dominici Gregis, n. 14. Second and third italicized portions mine].
Pope Pius XI, in Mortalium Animos, offers yet another papal comment on the Catholic attitude towards false religions, this time when speaking of the attempts by certain people to organize early 20th century inter-religious meetings (a harbinger, it seems, of the recent Assisi debacles):
Certainly such attempts can nowise be approved by Catholics, founded as they are on that false opinion which considers all religions to be more or less good and praiseworthy, since they all in different ways manifest and signify that sense which is inborn in us all... Not only are those who hold this opinion in error and deceived, but also in distorting the idea of true religion they reject it, and... turn aside to naturalism and atheism, as it is called; from which it clearly follows that one who supports those who hold these theories and attempt to realize them, is altogether abandoning the divinely revealed religion [n. 2. My italics].
Thus Pius XI points out that promoting respect for false religions not only does not encourage secularists to celebrate religion as a great force for good in the world, as Benedict XVI appears to single out as the goal of Assisi-style meetings,(7) but it rather inspires contempt for all religion, both the true and all the false. A religion purports to be what God has revealed about Himself. But God does not reveal “partial” truths, or truth mixed with error, but rather “the truth and nothing but the truth.”
The Modernist conception of religious error instead invites the secularist to ask — and to answer, by remaining secularist — the following question: “If all religions are good and worthy of respect, then why bother with any of them? They all say contradictory things. But if it really doesn't matter, for instance, whether you accept Christ's divinity or reject it, if each are worthy of respect, then there's no reason to bother with any of it.” And this secularist is exactly right, if the Modernist premise be conceded. A logical and intelligent secularist can find nothing but disgust for a position which holds that religions which blatantly contradict each other's most sacred tenets are in fact all worthy of “respect.” Numerous secularists themselves aggressively and intolerantly promote their own ideals — abortion on demand, sodomy as “marriage,” contraception for everyone — while showing no respect at all, but rather much vitriolic disrespect, for those who disagree. Even secularists recognize that the views of someone who wishes unborn babies to live, and the views of another who wishes their arms and legs to be ripped off their bodies, cannot both be entitled to “respect.” If secularists can recognize this, why cannot all Catholics?
False Religions According to the Saints
We have further confirmation of preconciliar papal teaching in the words and deeds of the saints. St. Vincent Lerin's great rule for knowing what agrees with the Church's faith is as useful today as it was centuries ago. He states that what has been believed “always, and everywhere, by all” (quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus creditum est), what “[has] been received as part of the deposit of faith in all places, at all times, and by all men... is assuredly part of the Catholic faith....”(8) And we can certainly learn about what forms part of Catholic belief by consulting the words and attitudes of the Church's holiest members, the saints. What did the saints say or imply about “respecting” false religions?
St. Margaret Clitherow was an English wife and mother captured by the Protestant authorities for the “crime” of having heard Holy Mass during the persecutions of Catholics by the English Protestants. The authorities resolved to put her to death. When some Protestant ministers tried to pray with her moments before her death, she spoke to them as follows: “I will not pray with you, nor shall you pray with me; neither will I say amen to your prayers, nor shall you to mine.” She knelt and prayed for the Catholic Church, for the pope, bishops, and priests, and even for Queen Elizabeth, that she would embrace the Catholic Faith and so reach Heaven when she died. The executioners then killed her: “A sharp stone was placed under her back, and seven or eight hundredweight at least were laid upon her; and her agony lasted for nearly a quarter of an hour.”(9) St. Margaret did not “respect” the Protestant religion; she died in part because she rejected it.
St. Andrew Bobola was savagely martyred by schismatic Cossacks, angry at his great success in converting heretics to the true Faith. While they barbarously murdered him, mutilating him, burning him alive, hacking him with an ax, peeling the skin off his back, gouging out his eye, slicing off his nose and lips, they finally cut a hole in the back of his neck and ripped out his tongue—before killing him—because they were unable to endure any longer the sound of words such as these, uttered by the holy martyr even in the midst of this unspeakable torture:
My faith... is the true faith... it is the faith that leads to heaven. I was born in that faith, and in that faith I will die. I will never renounce my faith. But you convert yourselves, do penance, for you will never be saved in your errors. Abandon your schism, embrace the faith which I profess, and you will save your souls.(10)
In other words, St. Andrew Bobola suffered some of his tortures precisely because of his continual exhortations to renounce religious error. His marks show a striking absence of respect for schismatic beliefs, but very much respect for the salvation of schismatic souls.
St. Thomas Aquinas is one of the Church's greatest doctors and intellects. Speaking of a certain religion prominent in our day for the bloody retribution which certain of its adherents tend to wreak on its critics, St. Thomas stated that its founder worked no miracles (the signs which authenticate any claimant to prophethood as being truly divinely approved), that it earned favor only among carnal and ignorant men, that it spread by violent means, that its teachings merely pervert those of the Old and New Testaments, and that those who believe its founder's words do so “foolishly.”(11) St. Alphonsus Liguori adds that this religion's carnal and frat-house idea of paradise “is only fit for beasts: for filthy sensual pleasure is all the believer has to expect there.”(12) St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Alphonsus Liguori, both Doctors of the Church, did not respect this religion.
What about St. Therese of Lisieux? She is quoted as having said the following:
How happy I would have been to fight at the time of the Crusades or, later on, to fight against the heretics! Be assured that I would not have been afraid... I want to go to the ends of the earth to preach Your name, O Jesus, to plant Your glorious cross on pagan shores!(13)
Well! Hardly the stuff of ecumenism and the vaunted “respect” prized by postconciliar luminaries, eh? More like material from the “bad old days” of preconciliar intolerance for error, falsehood, and blasphemy (she even threw in a mention of the Crusades! Cue a fit of apoplectic Modernist shock!). The Little Flower did not “respect” false religions, but wished to eradicate them and replace them with the true (re: Catholic) religion.
While recovering from sickness in the hospital, St. Maximilian Kolbe, the great saint so devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, served as the instrument of the conversion of one of his fellow hospital dwellers, a young Jewish man on the verge of death. The man was worried about his mother discovering his conversion, but St. Maximilian reassured him and baptized him only shortly before his mother arrived to find her son, once a Jew, now a Catholic, and now, too, deceased and out of her reach. She raged futilely against the saint's conversion effort, but her son was safely in eternal life. St. Maximilian showed no respect for this man's Judaism; he wanted him to be a Catholic and nothing else.
"... on [Cassino] stood an old temple where Apollo was worshipped by the foolish country people, according to the custom of the ancient heathens. Around it likewise grew groves, in which even till that time the mad multitude of infidels used to offer their idolatrous sacrifices. The man of God [St. Benedict] coming to that place broke the idol, overthrew the altar, burned the groves, and of the temple of Apollo made a chapel of St. Martin" [n. 11].
St. Benedict thus showed no respect for idolatrous paganism, but rather a horror for these non-Catholic religions which led him to destroy their idol. On the other hand, another Benedict (Benedict XVI), has evidently condemned idol-smashers as “fanatics” in the following words: “There were in fact Christian hotheads and fanatics who destroyed temples, who were unable to see paganism as anything more than idolatry that had to be radically eliminated.”(14) In other words, the pope's namesake St. Benedict evidently lacked the conciliar gnosis which would have enabled him to see the many elements of goodness present in systematized idol-worship. (And so it seems did Pope Leo XIII, Benedict XVI's predecessor, since in Ad Extremas he praised St. Francis Xavier as follows: “Through his extraordinary perseverance, he converted hundreds of thousands of Hindus from the myths and vile superstitions of the Brahmans to the true religion”). On each feast day of the great saint of Nursia, therefore, the present pope must recite the Breviary office of the day venerating someone whom he apparently regards as a fanatical hothead. Nor is there any “continuity” apparent between the teachings of St. Gregory the Great, Pius XII, and Leo XIII, who extol idol-smashing or denounce paganism as “vile superstition,” and that of Benedict XVI, who seems to deplore the “fanaticism” of such people. Not even a hermeneutic of continuity can square that circle.
We turn to the great Catholic martyrs; some estimates place their number at 10 million or more during the first three centuries of Christianity. These Catholic martyrs could have easily spared themselves a terrifying death had they offered but a single grain of incense to the Roman idols. And if the postconciliar teaching is true, and if non-Catholic religions should indeed be “respected,” why didn't they? John Paul II participated in an animist (that is, pagan) ceremony during a 1985 papal visit to Togo, Africa, as he himself relates: “The prayer meeting in the sanctuary at Lake Togo was particularly striking. There I prayed for the first time with animists.”(15)
Yet how did the martyrs react to the suggestion that they “respect” paganism with a small pinch of incense? Perhaps we can interest the Modernists in a short list of the types of deaths which the martyrs chose to undergo rather than to “respect” religious error:
Christians were put to death in many ways. They were beheaded, devoured by wild beasts, burned at stake, stoned to death, thrown into quick-lime, roasted on the gridiron, stabbed to death, gored by wild bulls, suffocated, sewed up in a sack with poisonous reptiles, strangled, entombed alive, put on the rack, torn with hooks, shot with arrows, rolled up in pitch and burned, frozen to death and hanged.(16)
Rather than offer a small gesture of “respect” to false religions, then, the martyrs chose to suffer various torments the detailed imagination of which would curdle the blood in one's veins. But if our modern-day Modernists are correct (which they are not), these martyrs were apparently rash and foolish in sacrificing their lives rather than offering the respect for these false religions which even recent popes, a council, and a catechism claim to be part of Catholic heritage. If the Church truly reveres false religions, as Benedict XVI claims, then rather than canonizing these martyrs, the Church should seemingly have rebuked them as a disgrace and a scandal to her own alleged teaching about “revering” the errors which they died rather than approve. Since the Church does not in fact revere false religions, and cannot revere them, therefore these saints were actually saintly, not rash, to suffer martyrdom rather than approve of religious error.
False Religions According to Christ and His Apostles
But let us go back still further, to the very beginning. What about the apostles? Were the apostles, who learned the Gospel from Our Lord Himself, brimming over with respect and tolerance for the many false religions which they came up against? On the contrary, St. Paul condemned those who dissent from the teaching of Christ as people to be avoided, as sinners and “heretic[s]” who are “condemned by [their] own judgment,” as those who will not enter God's kingdom, and as those who will suffer “eternal destruction” for not obeying the Gospel.(17) St. Peter, the first pope, says that those who reject Christ's and the apostles' teaching are “lying teachers who shall bring in sects of perdition” and who will suffer “swift destruction” [2 Peter 2:1].
St. John the Apostle, known as “the beloved disciple” and “the apostle of charity,” in part for his epistles, so full of warmth and exhortations to brotherly love, speaks no less clearly. What did the Apostle of love say of false religions? St. John says that one who denies that Jesus is the Messiah denies both the Father and the Son and is a liar and an antichrist, denounces anyone “who confess[es] not that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” as “a seducer and an antichrist,” says that those who revolt against “the doctrine of Christ” do not have God, that the Christians who meet with someone who “bring[s] not this doctrine” should “receive him not into the house nor say to him: God speed you,” and that the unbelieving “shall have their portion in the pool burning with fire and brimstone.”(18)
St. John's disciple, St. Polycarp, once met the heretic Marcion in the street and passed him without acknowledgment. Marcion asked Polycarp, did he not recognize him? Polycarp replied, “Yes, you are Marcion, the firstborn of Satan.” Thus did the apostles — who learned directly from Christ — regard those who rejected Christ's teaching and abandoned His Church. They did not regard these renegades as sincere and honest men simply exercising their “right to dissent,” but as obstinate rebels whose false beliefs made a show of blasphemous arrogance by rejecting the direct revelation of God Himself. The apostles did not “sincerely respect” false religions. They did not respect them at all.
Let us learn, finally, from Christ Our Lord Himself, Who taught the apostles and the Church that faith which — the author contends — has always and will always execrate and condemn religious error rather than “respecting” it. What did Our Saviour say about respecting religions at variance with the one which He established? Speaking to the Jews who refused to confess His divinity, He called them liars [Jn 8:55], children of the devil [Jn 8:44], and threatened them with eternal damnation if they did not repent of their unbelief [Jn 8:24]. Speaking of any religions to arise after Him which denied His teaching, Christ warned against false prophets [Matt. 24:11].
When giving instructions to the apostles about preaching His Gospel, note that Christ told them, not to hang around and dialogue with those who rejected their teaching, but rather to bear witness against their obduracy (and note too the frightful chastisement which He promises to those who reject the apostolic teaching): “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words: going forth out of that house or city shake off the dust from your feet. Amen I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city” [Matt. 10:14-5].
When Christ spoke with the Samaritan woman, follower of a false religion, He told her plainly that she and hers “adore that which you know not,” but that He and the other Jews “adore that which [W]e know. For salvation is of the Jews” [Jn 4:22]. Christ desired the Samaritan's salvation and respected her, but He did not respect her false beliefs and told her clearly that they were false. And finally, speaking of all beliefs and teachings which reject His own, He stated that whoever does not believe will be condemned [Mark 16:16]. And believe what? Believe what Christ taught. But Christ did not teach Hinduism, Judaism, Protestantism, or Islam. He taught only one religion, entrusted its conveyance to His Church, and denounced those who refused to hear that Church's teaching as worthy of being treated like heathens and publicans (i.e., like heinous sinners) [Matt. 18:17].
In short, the above provides a rather crushing (and much abbreviated!) cascade of evidence showing the attitude of preconciliar Catholicism, from Our Lord and the Apostles right down to the 20th century. Whatever our contemporary Modernists might wish to say of their beliefs about “respecting” blasphemy, heresy, and error, let them not say that such beliefs cohere with the teaching of Christ, His apostles, His saints, and all but a few of His popes. Reality itself repudiates such a claim.
Continuity or Contradiction?
— and Replies to an Objection —
The conclusion to be drawn from all of this is as simple as the principle of non-contradiction: these things cannot be reconciled. Having seen that preconciliar popes, saints, apostles, and Christ Himself taught that false religions ought not to be respected, that postconciliar popes taught that they should be, and that in fact the former is correct, we will now consider the most important question: Why should false religions not be respected? And the answer, like the principle of non-contradiction, is very simple. False religions should not be respected ... wait for it ... because they are false.
In other domains of human life, people can indeed respect systems which they regard as in some way deficient or lacking. Thus a diehard New York Yankees fan, although he roots against the Boston Red Sox, can respect their team as a talented baseball squad (even though many really diehard fans might take umbrage at that statement!). Similarly, a quantum physicist navigating the thorny dilemmas posed by some of the so-called quantum “paradoxes” can respect the varying interpretations offered by different scientists, even though, in the end, some of them cannot be simultaneously true. This respect stems from the nature of experimental science, which involves fitting a theory to data which, because of science's innate limits, will not always admit of a clear and certain means of verifying the correspondence between reality's actual mechanism and the theory's proposed mechanism.
But the matter is quite otherwise with religion. A religion, at least one which wishes to be taken seriously, purports to be a set of beliefs and practices directly revealed by God. And since God is an all-truthful Being, He cannot reveal a religion which contains any falsehood at all. Because of a religion's exalted claims, then, it can only be worthy of respect if it contains entire truth. One single error would disqualify it from a claim to have been revealed by God. And if it was not revealed by God, then it would have to have been invented by men (perhaps with an assist from the demon). But God would never authorize someone to invent a religion which contains assertions contrary to His revealed truth, and therefore anyone who took it upon himself to invent such a religion would commit a grave offense. Such an offense merits no respect, nor does the system containing error, no matter how much truth it may include, merit respect, particularly when that system purports to be a revelation from God. To teach error and then attribute it to God's revelation is nothing less than a blasphemous denial of God's truthfulness, no matter how sincere may be the blasphemer. To love God also means to hate what is opposed to Him, and few things could be so opposed to Him as the implicit assertion that He has revealed something false.
The preceding conclusion should be comprehensible not only to Catholics, but even to anyone having common sense. The famous British agnostic philosopher Bertrand Russell, though sufficiently hostile towards Christianity to have penned a book entitled Why I am Not a Christian, saw this clearly when he said the following (paraphrased from memory): “It is evident by reason that because all the world's religions contradict each other, therefore not more than one of them can be true.” Russell, an agnostic, saw that the world's religions could not all be “incomplete versions of the truth” surrounded by one “fullness” of truth, but rather, that if any of them were true, only one could be, surrounded by a multitude of false ones.
Here is the argument, then, for anyone at all to understand, even non-Catholics. But a further significant application can be made to Catholics who accept the truth that Christ's Church cannot contradict itself, teaching one thing as truth for 1,900 years before rejecting it for the last fifty. Put more bluntly, in light of the contradictions we have examined, either the Church was wrong for 2,000 years, for infallibly teaching that there is only one true faith (cf. Ephesians 4:5), for teaching that all others are false, for condemning their heresies, for canonizing saints who abhorred false religions, and for venerating martyrs who died unspeakable deaths rather than give the slightest sign of approbation for religious falsehood... either the Church was wrong to do this for two millenia, or else today's authorities fallibly urging respect for error are wrong. There is no middle ground between the two: tertium non datur.
Now of course if the Church was wrong for 2,000 years, as Modernists do not hesitate to assert, then there is no guarantee that the modern authorities themselves are not also wrong. This was the argument that Archbishop Lefebvre used in replying to Cardinal Ratzinger's attempt to resolve contradiction between preconciliar and postconciliar teaching on religious liberty. Pius IX's Quanta Cura, said the cardinal (now the pope), was good for the times of Quanta Cura, but we are no longer in the time of Quanta Cura, Your Excellency. Well, Your Eminence, replied Archbishop Lefebvre, if you are saying that the truth can change with the times, then this means that your Vatican II truths can also change with the times. Therefore there is no need for me to accept them, since soon they will be outdated just like you said of Quanta Cura. Therefore I will wait for tomorrow. A devastating response from the archbishop, an unanswerable one, and most importantly, a true one.(19)
Search for the principles at the heart of Modernism, of liberalism, and of all the ideologies which retain the human element of the Church in the stranglehold of postconciliar apostasy, search diligently, and somewhere you will find a denial of the principle of non-contradiction. If the Church was wrong for 2,000 years in telling us to abhor and despise false religions, as she did indeed tell us, if she was wrong to tell us that we were to die rather than submit to them, if indeed we were supposed to respect them all along, or if mere historical circumstance can make error abominable in one era and worthy of respect in another, if all of this is true, then the modern authorities can no longer appeal to anything like infallibility to uphold their own teachings.
The doctrinal discussions with the Society of St. Pius X seemed to reveal this argument as Rome's go-to strategy for defending Vatican II: You must accept Vatican II, because we made it, we are the authorities, and the authorities cannot be wrong. But in reply we note that if the current authorities are actually rejecting the teaching of prior authorities as untrue, claiming that those who taught hatred for false religions are wrong,(20) and that we must really respect religious error, then the present authorities deprive themselves of their greatest leveraging point. They have sawed off the branch on which they were sitting, and now, plummeting to the ground, they prefer to blame the branch (rather than themselves) for their imminent and painful crash landing.
Let us finally deal with one pressing objection to these assertions of contradiction: the claim that false religions really do contain “elements of truth and goodness,” and that for this reason they should be respected as being more or less near approaches to our own true Catholic religion. In reply we note that this objection treats the difference between the true religion and false religions as a difference of degree but not of kind. But this is a false distinction; St. Pius X identified it as one of the root errors of Modernism. Msgr. Joseph C. Fenton explains this well, rejecting
the false implication that the false religions, those other than the Catholic, are in some measure a partial approach to the fullness of truth which is to be found in Catholicism. According to this doctrinal aberration, the Catholic religion would be distinct from others, not as the true is distinct from the false, but only as the plenitude is distinct from incomplete participations of itself.(21)
To illustrate the problem, suppose that divine revelation can be expressed in 1,000 truths, that the Catholic faith (the “fullness” of the truth, in modern lingo) professes all 1,000 truths, that the Eastern schismatics profess 980, Protestants, 700, Jews, 500, Moslems, 300, and agnostics, 50. Modernism, which sees false religions as mere “incomplete” versions of the true, would say that the Catholics have slightly more faith than the schismatics, who in turn have a bit more than Protestants, who have a bit more than Jews, and so forth. But this is not at all the case. As St. Thomas points out, if 1,000 truths are divinely revealed, if a man believes 999 of them, and if he pertinaciously(22) rejects even one, he has the same amount of supernatural faith as an avowed atheist: none at all. This is because the formal or distinguishing cause of supernatural and divinely-given faith (as opposed to merely natural, human faith) is the authority of God revealing. A man with true divine faith believes in divinely revealed truth because the all-truthful God has revealed it. And since God is all-truthful, the man with true faith believes, not 99.9% of what God has revealed, but absolutely all of it. If he rejects even one truth, he rejects the authority which upholds them all,(23) which means that he does not have an “incomplete” or “imperfect” faith, but no faith at all. Pope Leo XIII stated this clearly:
The practice of the Church has always been the same, as is shown by the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, who were wont to hold as outside Catholic communion, and alien to the Church, whoever would recede in the least degree from any point of doctrine proposed by her authoritative Magisterium [Satis Cognitum, n. 9. My italics].
To say that formal adherence to Protestantism means to have “more” of the true faith than formal adherence to Judaism, or that formal adherence to Judaism means more true faith than atheism, is like saying that someone fatally shot in the head is “more living” than someone fatally shot fifty times in the head, since the first form of death was less severe than the latter. But of two dead people, both have exactly the same amount of life: none.
Bishop Fellay offered another effective analogy to the comparison between Catholicism and false religions. Rather than seeing falsehood as an “incomplete” version of the truth, such that the gap can be bridged merely by adding truths, Bishop Fellay proposes imagining religions as analogous to airplanes in an airport.(24) The Eastern schismatic “Orthodox” plane might have an engine, passengers, and so forth, but among other problems it lacks a pilot. The Protestant plane might still have passengers, but its problems extend farther; it has no engine and no pilot. The Buddhist plane is still more deficient; it is made only of paper. Only the Catholic plane has wings, engines, pilots, and all materials needed for lift-off, safe flight, and safe arrival. Only the Catholic plane, in short, can actually fly. It would therefore be absurd to “respect” the non-flying planes as valid and good (though “incomplete”) methods of air travel. The grounded planes are not “respectable” methods of air travel, since they cannot actually travel by air! Only one out of the whole group can really perform the sole action which entitles them to the name of aircraft: flying.
We can therefore see the incoherence of claiming that Catholics ought to respect false religions, and of defending this claim on the grounds that false religions still believe some truth. We can show the problem with this principle of trying to carve up false religions into “elements” of good and bad (rather than regarding them as systems in total, either good or bad as wholes(25)) by applying the principle to systems which even Modernists would (hopefully) reject completely.
For example, did the Council Fathers “regard with sincere reverence” the Communist dictatorships of Stalin and Mao? After all, despite the atrocious bloodbaths and death tolls into the millions which these wicked monsters inflicted on humanity, even Communists profess a belief in some elements of truth, like the importance of the economy and material goods in regulating human affairs. Communists are people too, you know, and shouldn't we respect and revere them for it?
Or what about abortionists? Would the Modernists “regard with sincere reverence” the “way of life” of an abortionist, which, though “differing” from the Church's own way, which regards dismemberment of unborn humans as “an unspeakable crime,”(26) nevertheless reflects values such as a concern for women's health and a desire to avoid the pain and inconvenience of a life spent bearing and raising children? Well, my Modernist friends? Why the stony silence?
What about Satanism? Even Satanists have “elements of truth” mixed among their diabolic delusions. If the name of their sect is anything to go by, they presumably believe in the existence of the devil, at least, which is more than can be said for at least some nominally Catholic bishops, according to famed exorcist Fr. Gabriele Amorth, who noted that “too many bishops” reject the devil's very existence.(27) But perhaps the Modernists cannot “respect” Satanist belief in the devil in part because Modernists themselves may not believe in the devil. Many exorcist priests would doubtless relish the opportunity to place a Modernist alone in a room with one of their possessed patients, there to experience a stark repudiation of his “demythologizing” tendencies.
Man-eating serial killers also recognize elements of the truth. They recognize the desirability of satisfying their hunger pangs by feeding on flesh, a perfectly legitimate and natural desire common to Catholics and non-Catholics. To be sure, murderous cannibals happen to satisfy those pangs by feeding on human flesh, but what of it? Who among the Modernists is so perfect as to sit in judgment of a cannibal and his diverse “traditions”? Such Modernists ought to step down gingerly from that high horse of theirs, lest they be tarred as intolerant and medieval.
Islamofascism, too, has many and diverse “religious traditions.” Its proponents traditionally enjoy beheading or suicide-bombing “infidels,” by which it is believed that they will obtain martyrdom. And martyrdom is good, isn't it? Isn't this worthy of “sincere reverence”? Should not a Modernist “sincerely respect” the traditions and elements of truth present in the beliefs of the wild-eyed jihadist now bearing down on him, scimitar in hand, ready to send him to that postmortem abode where both Catholics and Moslems presumably agree that unrepentant Modernists will go?
The last Assisi meeting extended an invite even to agnostics who profess no theistic belief; shouldn't the next Assisi meeting push out our boundaries still further and ring up our neighbourhood friendly criminal tyrants, abortionists, Satanists, man-eating serial killers, and jihadists, inviting them to join us at Assisi, to respect their diverse traditions of slaughter, demonism, or bloody massacre and to urge them to use such beliefs to serve the cause of peace? “But,” Modernists object, “slaughter and bloody massacre cannot be used to serve peace!(28) This is a contradiction!” A Modernist indicting a Catholic for contradiction is like a raging alcoholic scolding a sober man for drunkenness. There is a famous saying, upon which Modernists ought to reflect, about the impropriety of throwing stones while residing in glass domiciles.
The Problem and the Solution
I have little doubt that those who mistakenly believe, contrary to the teaching of Vatican I,(29) that loyalty to the pope involves “blindly and indiscriminately defend[ing] every decision of the supreme Pontiff”(30) will find any number of creative ways to avoid recognizing the obvious contradictions noted above. Some will deny that the Church ever taught Catholics to abhor false religions in the past (even though the preceding analysis plainly shows the contrary). Others will claim that the Church's understanding has “evolved” (even though the First Vatican Council said that the Church's understanding can never “evolve” to hold something contrary to what she has once professed(31)). Still others will claim that the author is a disobedient and obstinate schismatic, a wild theological animal who must be tamed in the conciliar zoo by forced readings of Nostra Aetate, and an outrageously presumptuous wretch for daring to call attention to anything problematic in the words or actions of a pope styled “the Great” by admirers who strangely do not wish to “dialogue” with their traditionalist brethren about these matters. In fact, the author has done no more than cite the teachings of past popes, which means that those who defend John Paul II's words by denying prior papal teaching themselves show disobedience to (preconciliar) papal teaching. To these we pose a question: does something false become less false when it happens to be spoken by a pope?
And there are those will chide this article for its failure to incorporate the “hermeneutic of continuity,” a delightfully vacuous postconciliar slogan which tells us nothing at all about how to actually resolve the self-evident contradictions which obtain between preconciliar and postconciliar praxis. You can lead a sycophant to the principle of non-contradiction, but you cannot make him think.
All that aside, what is the point of pointing out these contradictions? Shouldn't a good Catholic just ignore them and simply pray more, pretending that all is well? No, not at all. Error is never good for someone's spiritual life. It takes them farther from rather than nearer to God. If God is displeased by heresy, as He is; if He threatens eternal punishment for those who deny His revealed truth (cf. Mark 16:16, John 3:18, Galatians 1:8, Apocalypse 21:8); if He numbers among transgressions of His very first commandment sins such as worship of false gods and heresy (denying what He has revealed);(32) if He has inspired His Church to canonize and liturgically commemorate those who died rather than give favour to false religions — if He has done all of this, and He has, then He cannot be pleased with the idea that false religions which deny and outrage Him ought to be “respected.” To say otherwise would be to make God contradict His own explicit testimony.
We have described the problem. It is real; no honest, objective, and informed fence-sitter can hope to credibly deny it. What is the solution? Humanly speaking there is none. The idea that error and falsehood deserve respect and praise has sunk deep roots into a hedonistic, materialistic, morally bankrupt civilization whose relativistic citizens care little for deep discussions on religious truth and falsehood. It has sunk such deep roots that some of the Church's own leaders profess it.
Given all of that, humanly speaking there is no hope. But there is always hope where God is concerned. God cares about eradicating error, and so does His Holy Virgin Mother, Who warned us explicitly at Fatima of the dangers posed specifically by Russia's “errors.” Speaking of conversion from “error” is not in any way ecumenical, but it is most certainly Catholic and therefore true.
The solution to this problem, then, is to petition its resolution from the One able to fix it, that is, from God Himself. And since we know that “never was it known that anyone who fled to the protection” of God's Blessed Mother was refused, therefore it makes eminent sense that all have recourse to the Holy Virgin, asking that She Who told us to do whatever Christ would say might obtain for all, including the Church's leaders, the grace to do exactly what Christ told us to do for those professing a false religion:
“Going therefore, teach all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” [Matt. 28:19-20].
Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, Help of Christians, Who destroyest all heresies, pray for us.
The writer has also authored Rational Faith: Proof of the Existence of God, the Falsity of Atheism, and the Truth of Catholicism, a defense of the entirety of the Catholic faith, written somewhat after the manner of the traditional preconciliar manuals of apologetics.
(1) Visit to Wadi Al-Kharrar in Jordan, March 21, 2000.
(2) Address to Moslems, Casablanca, Morocco, August 19, 1985, n. 10.
(3) Meeting with non-Christians in Madras, India, February 5, 1986, n. 2.
(4) Father Faber, W. Hall-Patch, p. 15. My italics.
(5) Principles of Catholic Theology, pp. 390-1.
(6) Error n. 18, quoted in Handbook of the Christian Religion, Fr. W. Wilmers, S.J., p. 502.
(7) Justifying his outreach to the Society of St. Pius X, Benedict XVI said that disunity makes religion lack credibility in the eyes of unbelievers and added this: “In our days, when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God” - letter to the bishops, March 10, 2009. (I thank Jacob Michael for an article on his now-defunct website for pointing out this papal motive relative to ecumenical gatherings.)
(8) Fr. Sylvester Joseph Hunter, S.J., Outlines of Dogmatic Theology, vol. 1, pg. 165. The latter quote is apparently a paraphrase of St. Vincent's words.
(9) Pictures of Christian Heroism, p. 178.
(10) Ibid., 179.
(11) St. Thomas Aquinas, On the Truth of the Catholic Faith: Summa contra Gentiles, trans. Anton C. Pegis, book 1, c. 6 .
(12) St. Alphonsus Liguori, The History of Heresies, and Their Refutation, trans. Fr. John T. Mullock, vol. 1, pg. 188.
(13) Quoted in Gary Potter, Dom Prosper Gueranger.
(14) Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald, p. 373.
(15) La Croix, 23 August 1985.
(16) Fr. Anthony Alexander, College Apologetics, pp. 216-7.
(17) Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10-1; Galatians 5:20-1; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9. Quotations are from the Douay-Rheims Bible; list of references in part taken from Bishop George Hay's The Sincere Christian, vol. 2, pp. 259-348.
(18) 1 John 2:22-3; 2 John 1:7-10; Apocalypse 21:8.
(19) Paraphrased from a conference by Archbishop Lefebvre, October 29, 1984.
(20) Archbishop DiNoia, newly appointed to the Ecclesia Dei Commission, expresses this view: “The councils cannot... be led into error. All of the documents stand. Schism is not the answer. So I’m sympathetic to the Society, but the solution is not breaking off from the Church.” The Archbishop here strangely seems to imply that finding error in the fallible parts of conciliar documents is a schismatic act (though Lumen Gentium states in the Nota Previa that “the sacred Council defines as binding on the Church only those things in matters of faith and morals which it shall openly declare to be binding”). - DiNoia's dogmatic take on the pastoral Council notwithstanding, his comment on schism perhaps related more to the consecrating of SSPX bishops without a papal mandate. - Ed. CO.
(21) The Catholic Church and Salvation, Msgr. Joseph C. Fenton, p. 47. My italics.
(22) One must of course distinguish a formal heretic from (for example) an Eastern nominal Orthodox who was baptized, believes in the divinity of Christ, the triune nature of God, and the other mysteries of Faith, but perhaps in good faith does not accept the dogmas on papal primacy.
(23) This is (paraphrased from memory) the observation of Fr. Walter Farrell, O.P., in one of the volumes of his work A Companion to the Summa, speaking of why disbelief in one article destroys the virtue of faith entirely.
(24) From the Bishop's 2010 Angelus Press conference.
(25) I thank Fr. Chad Ripperger, FSSP, for suggesting this point via a remark about the postconciliar neglect of Dionysius's “principle of the integral good” (that a system must be good in all of its integral parts in order to be wholly good).
(26) Ironically, this quote comes from the Modernists' favourite Council: Gaudium et spes, n. 51.
(27) June 2000 interview with Fr. Amorth in 30 Days.
(28) The preceding was somewhat suggested by a satirical article parodying conciliar attitudes towards religious error and applying them to Satan: http://catholiccitizens.org/press/pressview.asp?c=13591.
(29) If I recall correctly an observation made by Fr. Chad Ripperger, FSSP, Vatican I's definition of papal infallibility tells Catholics, not only when popes are infallible, but also (by implication) when they are not. Outside of a limited range of circumstances, popes can err (and have erred).
(31) Vatican I, Session III, c. 4 (my italics): “Hence, also, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is perpetually to be retained which our holy Mother the Church has once declared; nor is that meaning ever to be departed from, under the pretence or pretext of a deeper comprehension of them...”
(32) I thank Fr. Phil Wolfe, FSSP, for a remark noting that “The First Commandment is the first because it's the most important” (paraphrase).