Pride goeth before a Schism

{16:18} Arrogance precedes destruction. And the spirit is exalted before a fall.

The above verse is often condensed into the expression: Pride goes before a fall.

Now today, I see many Catholics speaking with arrogance, that is to say, with pride, towards the Roman Pontiff, Pope Francis. They speak as if they understand the Faith better than the Pope. They speak as if they have the role to judge his words and deeds. They speak as if they had a role to judge Popes, Cardinals, Bishops, and the Church as a whole. It is as if Catholic Christianity were limited to whatever is contained in their own hearts and minds. Everything in the Faith is judged by comparison with themselves as the measuring stick. And they have measured the current Pope and found him lacking.

Perhaps the Pope has a speck in his eye, meaning that he has erred to a very limited extent in his personal opinions or non-infallible teachings. But his critics have a plank in their own eye. They have badly misunderstood Catholic doctrine on faith, morals, and salvation, and they have exalted themselves as if they were above the Magisterium and the Pope.

This attitude of arrogance toward the Vicar of Christ is the path to Schism.

Consider the history of the Church.

In the early Church, it is said that 300 Bishops fell into the Arian heresy. But the Roman Pontiff rebuked them, by calling a Council. And his teaching prevailed, while theirs did not.

What if today, 300 Bishops criticized the Roman Pontiff. Would you side with them, or with the Pope?

In the eleventh century, the Patriarch of Constantinople (a very high position in the Church) broke away from the Pope along with a large number of Bishops and Cardinals of the East, resulting in the Great Schism of 1054.

What if today, a Church leader of similar eminence along with many Cardinals and Bishops, broke away from the Pope? Would you side with them or with the Pope?

Have you not heard of the Council of Florence, in the fifteenth century? The Council was called by Pope Martin V, but he died before it could begin. The Bishops gathered at Basil, and when Eugenius IV was elected as the next Pope, many of the Council Fathers rejected his authority. So he ordered the Council to move to Ferrara, and then to Florence. The schismatic Bishops refused to obey, and thus did he separate the chaff from the wheat.

Even an Ecumenical Council — if it could even be called such when the members oppose the Roman Pontiff — cannot withstand the authority of a Roman Pontiff, nor can they teach under the Magisterium without the cooperation and approval of the Pope.

Now today, prideful Catholics are justifying their denigration of Pope Francis by pointing to Cardinals Burke and Sarah. But a Patriarch has a higher position in the Church than either of those Cardinals holds. And the number of Cardinals and Bishops who broke away in the Great Schism was much larger than the number of Cardinals who are criticizing Pope Francis.

Therefore, a Catholic cannot justify an accusation against Pope Francis by pointing to a few Cardinals, Bishops, priests, and theologians. The Roman Pontiff is the Vicar of Christ, and no set of Cardinals or Bishops, however numerous, can withstand his authority, or nullify his teaching. So that excuse does not hold water.

The real reason that some Catholics are rejecting Pope Francis, even to the extent, in some cases, of accusing him of teaching heresy or being a heretic, is that his words do not agree with their understanding of the Faith. And they arrogantly assume that they themselves cannot possibly have erred. He may have a speck in his eye, but they have a plank in their own eyes, and so they are not fit to criticize him.

Jeff Mirus

An astounding example of this type of arrogance is found in a recent post by Jeff Mirus, at Should we criticize Pope Francis, or not? If so, how? Part 1. Mirus speaks throughout the entire article as if he has the role to judge every Pope.

He goes through each recent Pope — Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis — and explains, in a matter-of-fact way, what was wrong with each Pontificate. He just assumes that his point of view is right, and that of each Pope is wrong. He does not present a theological argument supporting a theological opinion which differs from that of the Pontiff. No, he speaks as if he were infallible, and as if no theological argument were needed. He merely explains what each Pope did wrong.

Mirus then explains to his readers that Catholic “outlets” like have a responsibility to behave this way toward each Pope. And again, he presents his point of view as absolute. He cannot possibly be the one who has erred or misunderstood. It must be the Vicar of Christ who is in the wrong: “we have a duty to guard against harm that may be done by a pope’s weaknesses, or even his oversights….” So Mirus and other self-appointed Catholic leaders have a duty to assume that their own understanding is without error and without flaw, and to judge each Pope by the measuring stick of their own minds and hearts. Wow. The Pharisees of old would be impressed by the extent of this arrogance.

How did Mirus obtain this role to judge Popes? He is not a Cardinal or Bishop. He is not even a priest or deacon or religious. He has a degree in intellectual history, not theology. Well, it’s very simple. He founded a number of different organizations, and then gave himself leadership roles in those same organizations.

He founded a non-profit called “Trinity Communications”. He then made himself President of Trinity Communications. His bio even has the banner, in large bold print: “Dr. Jeffrey Mirus, President,” meaning president of a corporation he himself founded. Mirus calls Trinity Communications “Trinity” for short.

“Originally focusing on print publishing, he guided Trinity onto the internet in 1993 and onto the web in 1996.”

“In 1992, Trinity began to explore the possibility of moving its work to advance the Catholic faith to the online world, where the company quickly became a pioneer.”‘

“Trinity retained the site’s editorial leadership, Phil Lawler, to carry forward the mission of the site.” [bio | more]

In my opinion, naming a non-profit corporation after the Trinity, using the very word itself as the name of the organization, is a form of taking the name of the Lord in vain. It is a violation of the Second Commandment: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.”

It is also an expression of self-exalting arrogance, to name a corporation which he founded and leads after the name of God, as if he were placing himself above God. The Jews in ancient times dared not utter the name of God. How far we have fallen from that respectful practice!

In my opinion, Jeff Mirus is not qualified to judge any Pope’s teachings or theological opinions, because his own understanding of Catholic doctrine is deeply flawed. See my posts:

* contra Jeff Mirus on Contraception
* Jeff Mirus’ Grave Doctrinal Errors on Infallibility
* The False Teachings of Jeff Mirus on Church Authority
* Mirus and Lawler versus Pope Francis

Like very many of the Pope’s critics, Mirus has a plank in his eye — that of arrogance — and so he is not fit to offer a sound criticism of the speck (of limited errors in personal opinions) that might be found in the eye of any Pope.

Edited to add: (9/22/16) Jeff Mirus has posted parts 2 and 3 of this set of articles on criticizing the Pope. Part 2 details different ways to fight against an opinion or teaching of the Pope which one judges to be in error, including: Ignoring the message, substituting our own message, challenging, controlling, and even opposing the message. Again, the assumption is that the critic is necessarily right, and the Pope is necessarily wrong. It is as if the Pope has no role to teach and correct, and it is as if Catholic authors and bloggers who disagree with the Pope should usurp that role.

Part 3 correctly states that he and other papal critics are fallible and could err to a great extent. He speaks well of humility, fairness, and balance in criticizing the Pope. Unfortunately, I don’t see this correctly stated set of principles actually applied in his writings — including, ironically, the first two segments of the series. Mirus has a poor understanding of Catholic doctrine, never admits error, and speaks about Pope Francis as if Jeff Mirus were a teacher correcting a badly behaved student, who happens to be the Pope.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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3 Responses to Pride goeth before a Schism

  1. Hopeful says:

    Dear Mr. Conte,
    I find your writings very refreshing after an overdose of anti-Pope blogs. But I think you are a bit too harsh with the more conservative Cardinals when you suggest they are being schismatic (in other blog entries). Pope Francis has the power to rebuke them if he so wishes, but he has expressed great tolerance for differing points of view. Also, it’s obvious he is not in love with traditionalist sensibilities and groups such as SSPX, yet he is more open to accepting the SSPX than any others; I don’t believe it’s a “trap”, it’s just that he accepts differing views on certain topics. I hope you don’t expect a schism just to be right about your predictions!
    Having said that, I agree that especially at the level of laymen, the tone of the conversation has gone too far.

  2. Joshua says:

    Mr. Conte, I have a dilemma: A relative of mine (a good, church attending Catholic), has found many of these kinds of blogs and videos online and has now been convinced of the possibility that Francis is an anti-pope, and that Benedict XVI is still the real pope because his resignation was coerced. I’ve told this person before that Benedict resigned freely and that Francis is a valid pope. But this person still has doubts. And this person still goes to Holy Mass and receives the Blessed Sacrament. I’m very concerned. Is this person committing a sin by receiving the Sacrament? If so, I want to correct this person as soon as possible! This person struggles with understanding Church teaching and is very easily influenced. Pleas help! Thanks again in advance.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Each person must walk their own path in life, and live according to their own conscience. That said, a Catholic should not receive Communion if he or she thinks that the current Pope teaches heresy, or is a heretic, or is an antipope. Even so, I don’t think it is your role to approach that person and tell them not to receive. See my book: In Defense of Pope Francis for my explanations on why the Pope cannot be an antipope and cannot teach heresy or be a heretic.

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