Pope Leo XIII – On the Duties of Laymen to Study and Spread the Faith

“We are essentially like an army battalion, trapped behind enemy lines for decades.”

Image: Pope Leo XIII, by Fabio Cipolla – Wiki Commons.

In this image, our battalion’s officers have either died, or defected to the enemy – or at least made their loyalties so doubtful that we cannot have recourse to them.

We are not in clear contact with the rest of the army. We are on our own.

What are we to do? Are we to sit down and surrender?

The following excerpts are taken from Pope Leo XIII’s 1890 encyclical Sapientiae Christianae, on Christians as citizens. In this encyclical, the pope taught that the remedy for the evils facing society was re-establishing “the doctrines and practices of the Christian religion” in the family and in society.[1] To this end, he wanted “to define more in detail the duties of the Catholics, inasmuch as these would, if strictly observed, wonderfully contribute to the good of the commonwealth.”[2]

What are these duties?

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Catholic duties

The first duty is obvious: by Christ’s commission to “preach the Gospel to every creature, [he] imposed, it is evident, upon all men the duty of learning thoroughly and believing what they were taught.”[3]

There is, however, another duty imposed on all Catholics – to spread, according to their abilities, the faith received from the Church.

According to the Catholic faith, the pope and the diocesan bishops are the authorised teachers who properly exercise the power of magisterium. By contrast, according to the theologian Fr E. Sylvester Berry:

“Priests, catechists, parents, and others are simply witnesses to the teachings of the Church.”[4] [Emphasis added. Note that this list includes “priests” as well as laymen].

The theologian J.M.A. Vacant expands on this point:

“[‘The divinely constituted pastors’] have given themselves helpers by entrusting priests and clerics with ecclesiastical functions; they accept auxiliaries who offer themselves from the ranks of the laity.”[5]

Texts like this make many wonder: how does this work in our situation today?

An ordinary might “accept auxiliaries” from the laity by appointing them to some position of responsibility – although parents, of course, have this natural right and duty as regards their children. But in our current situation in the West and elsewhere, the essence of the crisis is a refusal of much of the putative hierarchy to teach, rule and sanctify in accordance with the Catholic religion (and also often the imposition of things contrary to this religion).

Very few of us, therefore, can have recourse to a diocesan bishop to “accept us as auxiliaries”. Similarly, we cannot have recourse to an ordinary to approve anything we might write.

But Canon 1385 forbids the publication of books until they have received ecclesiastical censorship, and states that it is the ordinary who can grant the permission for publication, whether he be the ordinary of the place of the author, publication or printing.[6]

What, then, are we to do?

Given all this, what should we do, “when necessity compels,” as Leo XIII puts it? Should we throw up our hands and say “those only who are invested with power of rule” – viz. the Roman Pontiff, diocesan bishops and their auxiliaries – “are bound to safeguard the integrity of faith”?

Should we “recoil before an enemy”? Should we “keep silence when from all sides such clamours are raised against truth”?

Should we say “that Jesus Christ, the Guardian and Champion of the Church, needs not in any manner the help of men” – and that we are better staying silent and leaving things to the clergy?

Should we cringe back, and say that “private individuals are prevented from taking some active part in this duty of teaching”?

All of these ideas are denied by Pope Leo XIII.

So what should we do?

Should we just do nothing and hope for the best?

Should we say that one can spread The Apostles’ Creed or The Penny Catechism, but not think or talk about the more complex problems of our day?

Should we just bury what we have been given in the ground, pretend that we are all unable to read or write, and wait for the enemy to destroy us and our dependants?

Let us see what Leo XIII has to say on the matter. All emphases have been added, and an afterword follows the short text.

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Sapientiae Christianae

On Christians as Citizens
Pope Leo XIII
nn. 13-16

13. Under such evil circumstances therefore, each one is bound in conscience to watch over himself, taking all means possible to preserve the faith inviolate in the depths of his soul, avoiding all risks, and arming himself on all occasions, especially against the various specious sophisms rife among non-believers.

In order to safeguard this virtue of faith in its integrity, we declare it to be very profitable and consistent with the requirements of the time, that each one, according to the measure of his capacity and intelligence, should make a deep study of Christian doctrine, and imbue his mind with as perfect a knowledge as may be of those matters that are interwoven with religion and lie within the range of reason. And as it is necessary that faith should not only abide untarnished in the soul, but should grow with ever painstaking increase, the suppliant and humble entreaty of the apostles ought constantly to be addressed to God: “Increase our faith.”[7]

14. But in this same matter, touching Christian faith, there are other duties whose exact and religious observance, necessary at all times in the interests of eternal salvation, become more especially so in these our days. Amid such reckless and widespread folly of opinion, it is, as we have said, the office of the Church to undertake the defence of truth and uproot errors from the mind, and this charge has to be at all times sacredly observed by her, seeing that the honour of God and the salvation of men are confided to her keeping.

But, when necessity compels, not those only who are invested with power of rule are bound to safeguard the integrity of faith, but, as St. Thomas maintains:

“Each one is under obligation to show forth his faith, either to instruct and encourage others of the faithful, or to repel the attacks of unbelievers.”[8]

To recoil before an enemy, or to keep silence when from all sides such clamours are raised against truth, is the part of a man either devoid of character or who entertains doubt as to the truth of what he professes to believe. In both cases such mode of behaving is base and is insulting to God, and both are incompatible with the salvation of mankind.

This kind of conduct is profitable only to the enemies of the faith, for nothing emboldens the wicked so greatly as the lack of courage on the part of the good. Moreover, want of vigour on the part of Christians is so much the more blameworthy, as not seldom little would be needed on their part to bring to naught false charges and refute erroneous opinions, and by always exerting themselves more strenuously they might reckon upon being successful. After all, no one can be prevented from putting forth that strength of soul which is the characteristic of true Christians, and very frequently by such display of courage our enemies lose heart and their designs are thwarted.

Christians are, moreover, born for combat, whereof the greater the vehemence, the more assured, God aiding, the triumph: “Have confidence; I have overcome the world.”[9]

Nor is there any ground for alleging that Jesus Christ, the Guardian and Champion of the Church, needs not in any manner the help of men. Power certainly is not wanting to him, but in his loving kindness he would assign to us a share in obtaining and applying the fruits of salvation procured through his grace.

15. The chief elements of this duty consist in professing openly and unflinchingly the Catholic doctrine, and in propagating it to the utmost of our power. For, as is often said, with the greatest truth, there is nothing so hurtful to Christian wisdom as that it should not be known, since it possesses, when loyally received, inherent power to drive away error. So soon as Catholic truth is apprehended by a simple and unprejudiced soul, reason yields assent.

Now, faith, as a virtue, is a great boon of divine grace and goodness; nevertheless, the objects themselves to which faith is to be applied are scarcely known in any other way than through the hearing. [St Paul says:]

“How shall they believe Him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? Faith then cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”[10]

Since, then, faith is necessary for salvation, it follows that the word of Christ must be preached. The office, indeed, of preaching, that is, of teaching, lies by divine right in the province of the pastors, namely, of the bishops whom “the Holy Spirit has placed to rule the Church of God.”[11] It belongs, above all, to the Roman Pontiff, vicar of Jesus Christ, established as head of the universal Church, teacher of all that pertains to morals and faith.

16. No one, however, must entertain the notion that private individuals are prevented from taking some active part in this duty of teaching, especially those on whom God has bestowed gifts of mind with the strong wish of rendering themselves useful. These, so often as circumstances demand, may take upon themselves, not, indeed, the office of the pastor, but the task of communicating to others what they have themselves received, becoming, as it were, living echoes of their masters in the faith.

Such co-operation on the part of the laity has seemed to the Fathers of the Vatican Council so opportune and fruitful of good that they thought well to invite it:

“All faithful Christians, but those chiefly who are in a prominent position, or engaged in teaching, we entreat, by the compassion of Jesus Christ, and enjoin by the authority of the same God and Saviour, that they bring aid to ward off and eliminate these errors from holy Church, and contribute their zealous help in spreading abroad the light of undefiled faith.”[12]

Let each one, therefore, bear in mind that he both can and should, so far as may be, preach the Catholic faith by the authority of his example, and by open and constant profession of the obligations it imposes. In respect, consequently, to the duties that bind us to God and the Church, it should be borne earnestly in mind that in propagating Christian truth and warding off errors the zeal of the laity should, as far as possible, be brought actively into play.

(Article continues below)

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Limits on studying Catholic doctrine?

Some are perplexed about how much laymen could or should study theology without falling into intellectual pride or neglecting their state in life. Much as we might all want a single, clear answer, there does not appear to be one – except for what Leo XIII gives us: “each one, according to the measure of his capacity and intelligence, should make a deep study of Christian doctrine.”

A priest can help with making this judgment, of course: but it is a judgment of prudence, and cannot necessarily be outsourced to somebody else. I hope that our series on Learning Sacred Theology may also help such persons gauge the commitment involved and their own aptitude.

Pride is a real danger, which I address below: but the answer cannot be burying what God has given us in the ground.

So much for the question of studying doctrine: what about the question of spreading it?

Limits on spreading Catholic doctrine – dependance on the hierarchy

Following this extract, Leo XIII begins an extended discussion of how, even in discharging the duties discussed, laymen should be dependent on the Roman Pontiff and the ordinary hierarchy.

A full explanation of how we are to understand this dependence in the absence of a pope and a diocesan bishop is outside the scope of this short article.

But to return to the opening image:

Our battalion’s officers have either died, or defected to the enemy – or at least made their loyalties so doubtful that we cannot have recourse to them.

We are not in clear contact with the rest of the army. We are on our own.

The soldiers in this image cannot pretend to know the state of the entire army throughout the world. For all they know, they are all that is left.

But unlike them, we know that our battalion is part of a greater army which can never fail. We know that Christ, our true Sovereign who will never die, has promised that his army – to continue the analogy – will always exist as an hierarchical, ordered force in the world. From the theologians’ explanations of the catholicity and apostolicity of the Church, it seems that we can know with certainty there must remain, somewhere, other “units” which continue to be commanded by duly commissioned officers.[13]

Our lack of access to these officers in our our countries, or our difficulty in identifying them, does not mean that they do not exist – and aside from any doctrinal problems, it would be gratuitous to assert this universal negative – especially regarding faraway lands with languages (let alone alphabets) which we do not understand.

It should give us great hope to know that even if we are destroyed, Christ’s army continues and will continue in the world, with the same constitution he gave it, intact and in all its glory.

Creating a new chain of command?

We may all want to be submissive to the clergy – but the Church’s constitution entails submission, not to priests of our choosing, but to the legitimate hierarchy. Our difficulties in accessing the authorised chain of command, either in our own locations or elsewhere, does not mean that we can wish “our” clergy into positions they neither hold nor even claim. The same applies for those “in good standing” looking towards retired or auxiliary bishops or even priests. None of these men are ordinaries.

While we are very grateful for all that “the traditional clergy” do for us, by their own admission they do not occupy offices to which the powers of jurisdiction (or indeed magisterium) are attached. They were ordained for an “emergency” ministry, and exercise a supplied jurisdiction on an act-by-act basis, justified solely by necessity and epikeia. Their priestly fraternities pertain to the formation and education of priests, and they do not claim to govern the laymen “attached” to them – in other words, there is no proper superior-subject relation between these clerics and the laymen associated with them.

We cannot wish this relation into existence, neither with our chosen clergy nor with retired or auxiliary bishops – no matter how great their learning, sanctity or diligence in their ministry. It should be clear that “putting ourselves under their authority” does not create this relation – and if it did, then most persons who have changed their understanding of the current crisis would have committed a fault in withdrawing from their self-chosen, self-accepted authorities. Nobody seriously thinks this, and priests do not send laymen (or other priests) away on the grounds that they had hitherto been “under the authority” of another group.

It is true that in 1985, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre said in a sermon, “Your chapels are your parishes”.[14] Bishop Tissier de Mallerais explains these words:

“Do not go to your diocesan parishes but look to your priests and the places where you worship to find Holy Mass and the sacraments, as well as all desirable parish activities.”[14]

Bishop Tissier de Mallerais continues, clarifying what the Archbishop meant in terms which are relevant not only to the SSPX, but to all such “emergency” apostolates:

“The temporary Mass centers organized by laypeople and then taken over and firmly established by the Society were not, in spite of appearances, ‘parallel parishes’: the priest responsible for souls did not have the jurisdiction of a parish priest. These foundations acted only in a substitute capacity.”[14]

While such priests have a certain “dominative” power over their buildings and other particulars relating to their ministries, this dominative power does not give them jurisdictional power over the faithful – nor do they claim it. It certainly does not give them the power, for example, to withhold the sacraments based on a disagreement about practical positions in the crisis. There are many cases in which, while we may be bound in prudence to seek advice and to follow it, we cannot be strictly obliged to seek permissions or approvals from these clerics, as they have no power to grant such things.

However, there are many practical benefits to acting as if such chapels are our parishes. We should be grateful for the “priests in charge”, who have baptised our children, absolved and communicated us, instructed us, married us or prepared us for marriage, anointed our loved ones, comforted us in sorrow and given so much of themselves for us over the years. If we are to treat these chapels as substitute parishes, then it makes sense to treat the clergy accordingly – namely, with proper respect, and having a habitual disposition of trust in their advice and instruction.

While they cannot constitute a new hierarchy or “chain of command”, we owe these men respect and gratitude, and we have a debt of piety which cannot be properly repaid.

Living authorities?

Some might object, saying that the Church must have a living authority, and pointing to “our” clergy as continuing it. It is true that Vatican I teaches:

“It was [Christ’s] will that in his church there should be shepherds and teachers until the end of time.”[15]

But while “our” clergy are indeed living, and have an intrinsic authority based on their learning, and a certain extrinsic authority based on the relationships we contract with them, they are not the living authority in the relevant sense of being residential bishops, or ordinaries. This has been addressed above, and in the footnotes. They do not constitute the hierarchy of the Church, and do not enjoy more authority than, for example, the theological works and seminary textbooks used and approved by true successors of the apostles (viz. diocesan ordinaries), “which saw day before the Modernist influence of the Council.”[16]

One cannot give what one does not have: without jurisdiction, none of these men are able to “accept auxiliaries” in the sense discussed before – just as their permission or censorship do not suffice for the purposes of Canon 1385.

Incidentally, when it comes to publishing books, censorship and permission from a diocesan ordinary, “the traditional clergy” are as bound by (or dispensed from) Canon 1385 as anyone else.

A warning

It is normal, of course, to study under a teacher: but it is not humble to imagine that one’s God-given intellect is unable to understand sacred theology or to tell others about it; nor is it proud to conclude, cautiously and carefully, that one might be suited for such things. Neither tonsure nor the character of holy orders convey the ability to understand theology, as if it were absent in anyone lacking those things.

It is embarrassing to have to respond to such ideas – but if others voice them, then a response is necessary. The reality is that there are many laymen who are intelligent and well-informed; who would be quite capable of understanding distinctions; and who, if they were to read a seminary textbook, would not close the book after a few paragraphs. Rather, they could begin to gain a greater knowledge of the faith and appreciation of the Church’s dogmas, and could fulfil what Leo XIII called “the strong wish of rendering themselves useful”.

None of this is to deny the words of Fr Brown’s catechism to John, in Benson’s Religion of the Plain Man:

“You will have no position at all in the Catholic Church, except that of sitting below the pulpit and kneeling at the altar-rail. […]

“You will be a learner now, sir, instead of possibly a teacher; and in reward for that slight humiliation you will have peace instead of strife. You are a child at school again.”[17]

Indeed, laymen have no positions in the hierarchy of the Church – but we do have duties. We do not exercise the teaching authority of the Church, but we do teach others in our own proper spheres. While today we cannot clearly hear the voice of the magisterium in our own dioceses, we know that the Church will one day speak clearly to us again in our own lands – and until then, we have many safe monuments of her teaching, authorised and used within living memory.


We should be especially careful about the statement, “Well, it makes sense.” Things that are dangerously wrong may “make sense” to someone who has not studied the issues properly. As I have written elsewhere: laymen who find themselves writing about theology must thoroughly reference their material with proper authorities. It is one thing to echo what the Church and her theologians have said and apply it to contingent data. It is another thing to start “doing theology” – which is really DIY theology – by making theological points on one’s own authority, or arguing with theologians on intrinsic grounds. This is why our motto is “always read the footnotes”.

However, proof-texting half-understood sources, or harvesting them from elsewhere, is not what is in view here.

Rather – and this point cannot be emphasised too much – if we are to discharge the duties discussed, we must ensure that we properly understand whatever we are writing or saying, and not overreach ourselves. Avidly reading articles or books about a very narrow aspect of the crisis does not give a broad, secure knowledge of doctrine. We should study sacred theology in an ordered way, according to the mind of the Church.

If one cannot do all this, then one should stay silent, rather than mislead others or cause these other execrable consequences.

As a final point: it is much, much harder to discharge these duties properly on social media or on video than it is in a longer format. It is understandable that some are enthusiastic and want to feel like they are doing something for Christ and his Church – but regardless of how much one has studied, very little is gained from extended social media debates. Such debates often get heated, which is especially problematic when it involves those clerics who have chosen to join social media, or when it leads to pride or a partisan spirit.


Anyone saying or writing anything in this highly unusual period must still be able to make St Teresa of Avila’s words his own:

“In all that I shall say in this Book, I submit to what is taught by Our Mother, the Holy Roman Church; if there is anything in it contrary to this, it will be without my knowledge. Therefore, for the love of Our Lord, I beg the learned men who are to revise it to look at it very carefully and to amend any faults of this nature which there may be in it and the many others which it will have of other kinds.”[18]

It is certain that we must maintain a constant internal submission to the Holy Roman Church and to her judgment – when it is clearly expressed, once more – and we must be prepared to revise or retract anything which is shown to be in error, whether by a priest or another layman.

No layman is an authority in his own right. We are to be what Leo XIII calls “living echoes of [our] masters in the faith” – echoing not our own thoughts or those of our chosen group of clergy, but the teaching and approved authorities of the Church.

Mistakes or carelessness here can be extremely dangerous. As Abraham Lincoln supposedly said: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” If this idea is not enough incentive, then consider the words of Holy Scripture: “Even a fool, if he will hold his peace, shall be counted wise.” (Proverbs 17.28).

The clerics or groups with whom we have chosen to associate – men whom we love, thank and support, and for whose ministries we are eternally grateful – may be important sources of help and advice with all of the matters discussed in this piece. In some cases, seeking such help and advice may be a duty in itself.

But it is very hard to see how laymen, before discharging the duties which Leo XIII discussed, could be obliged to seek the approval or permission of clerics of their own choosing – with this choice being based on their own prior judgment of these clerics’ doctrinal “positions” – especially when such clerics do not even claim to govern or to exercise jurisdiction over the faithful. Doubts about our local ordinaries do not somehow elevate such clerics to that level.

We do not have a right to surrender in the intellectual struggle for the faith. We laymen have duties, and we must fulfil them.

Learning Sacred Theology

The full reading list in one place.

Part I: Preliminaries, Catechism, Latin, Philosophy and the Magisterium
Part II: Ecclesiology, Apologetics and Dogmatic Theology.
Part III: Holy Scripture, Moral Theology, History, Patristics and Canon Law

Theology Manuals – Why are they so important in the post-conciliar crisis?
What are the duties of laymen in studying and spreading the Faith? – Pope Leo XIII
Theology and History – Part II: Why understanding this relationship is crucial for avoiding shipwreck
Theology and the Interior Life – How do they help each other? Fr R. Garrigou-Lagrange, 1943


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[1] Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Spaientiae Christianae, 1890, available online here.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid n. 4

[4] E. Sylvester Berry, The Church of Christ, Wipf Stock and Publishers, Oregon, dated 1955, 258. Cf. also the discussion on “successors of the apostles,” page 232. In a similar way, and by their own admission, those clerics who have received orders under the current state of necessity or according to the principle of epikeia do not occupy offices to which the power of jurisdiction or magisterium are attached. In terms of their teaching activities, they are not the authorised pastors and doctors spoken of by Vatican I and by the tradition of the Church. Rather, they too can be seen as witnesses in the sense above.

[5] Vacant Chapter II, available here: https://wmreview.co.uk/2021/08/27/vacant-oum-introduction-chapter-ii/

[6]Canon 1385 § 1. Unless ecclesiastical censorship has preceded, there shall not be published, even by laity: 1.°  Books of sacred Scripture or annotations on them or commentaries; 2.°  Books that look to divine Scriptures, sacred theology, ecclesiastical history, canon law, natural theology, and ethics and other religious and moral disciplines of this sort; books and booklets of prayers, devotions, and teaching or religious instruction on morals, ascetics, mysticism and other [topics] of this sort, even though they seem conducive to fostering piety; and generally those writings in which there is something of special import to religion and right living;  […] § 2. Permission for publishing books and images mentioned in § 1 can be given by the Ordinary of the place of their author, or by the Ordinary of the place in which the books or images are going to be published, or by the Ordinary of the place in which they are printed, although if one of the Ordinaries denied permission, the author cannot petition another unless he makes him aware of the denial of permission from the other.” The 1917 or Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law, in English Translation with Extensive Scholarly Apparatus, trans. Dr Edward Peters, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2001

[7] Luke 12.75

[8] St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, IIa-IIae, qu. iii, art. 2, ad 2m.

[9] John 16:33

[10] Rom. 10:14, 17.

[11] Acts 20:28

[12] Vatican I, Dei Filius, towards the end. Available at https://www.papalencyclicals.net/councils/ecum20.htm

[13] “It is not sufficient for actual Catholicity that a Church have members scattered far and wide throughout the world; the Church itself, as a society, must exist in the various parts of the world to exercise its authority and carry on the mission of Christ. In other words, the Church of Christ must be formally universal.”

E. Sylvester Berry, The Church of Christ, B. Herder Book Co. London 1927. p 127

Therefore, it would seem that the Church must still continue “in various parts of the world”, as an ordered, hierarchical body with legitimate authorities – which all understand to be diocesan bishops, the successors of the apostles – who alone can “exercise its authority and carry on the mission of Christ.”

Now, some deny that these legitimate authorities exist in act today, believing that the demands of Catholic doctrine are satisfied if they exist in potency. Against this, cf. Palmieri, who specifically says that successors of the apostles must always continue to exist in act (in obvious distinction to the successor of St Peter himself):

“It is necessary that the work of those who are enumerated must last until the saints are to be perfected and the Church is to be edified. It can last in two ways, either in so far as its efficacy lasts, or in so far as it always exists in act by means of a continuous succession. But it is clear that the latter is also required, for it says that God constitutes them ‘for the work of the ministry’, which requires the actual exercise of the power. Moreover, the Apostles, as such, were not to be perpetual according to the full extent of the power; it is also clear that the prophets and evangelists, in so far as a particular office was meant, were not to be perpetual; It only remains, therefore, that as pastors and teachers as such, whose own ministry is that by which the body of Christ is built up and the saints are perfected, they should endure by a perpetual succession, by whose ministry also it is achieved that the efficacy should always endure, through the ministry of others to whom it is transmitted. Therefore, by divine institution, there must exist in the Church, after the Apostles, pastors and teachers, who have the power to rule and to teach, together with the power to sanctify.” [Emphasis added]

Dominico Palmieri SJ, Tractatus de Roman Pontifice, Editio Tertia in Nonnullis Emendata, Prati Ex Officina Libraria Giachetti, Filii et Soc. 1902, p 107. Translated by Mr Cristian Jacobo. Latin available at https://books.google.com.ar/books?id=fHMJAwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

Some object that if there can be an interregnum between popes, then a fortiori there can be an “universal interregnum” between all successors of the apostles simultaneously. But this does not prove that a universal interregnum is possible, and such an idea is contradicted by many authors. Further argumentation would be needed here to avoid begging the question.

If we are disputing whether a necessary thing (e.g. the successors of the apostles as a body) exists, then continuing to exist in potency appears insufficient. Something that exists merely in potency does not exist: therefore further premises are required to get such arguments where they are intended to go. Nor can objectors retreat from this and say that it is an analogy: like arguments, analogies should work from what is more clear to illustrate what is less clear. This does the opposite.

Further, if the entire hierarchy cannot defect, then clearly we do not need an explanation as to how it could. Again, without further argumentation, it is begging the question.

The rhetorical objection, “Tell us their names”, misses the point. Where they are and how they got there are not the point at all. This objection entails saying that Palmieri and all the others are wrong, based on our present inability in the West to make an empirical observation regarding facts which we would have no reason to think we should know. This is a hopelessly inadequate ground for denying the teaching of Catholic theologians.

It will not do to ignore or reject all of this, saying that our crisis is unprecedented, and that while most theologians said it would be impossible that the entire hierarchy to disappear or defect from the faith, they did not give us instructions or principles for the present situation. As Mgr Joseph Clifford Fenton writes:

“If these books all contain common teaching opposed to or even distinct from genuine Catholic doctrine, then the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Catholic Church has been very much at fault during the course of the twentieth century.

Joseph Clifford Fenton, ‘The Teaching of the Theological Manuals’, American Ecclesiastical Review, April 1963, pp. 254-270. Available at The Bellarmine Forums.

If it is acceptable to depart from the theological authorities on this thesis, it is difficult to see how we can insist on numerous other theses without falling into arbitrariness. On the contrary, we should hold to all of the traditional theses common to the treatises on the Church.

[14] Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Marcel Lefebvre: The Biography, trans. Brian Sudlow, Angelus Press, Kansas City MO, 2004. Ebook version pp 626-7.

[15] Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus, Session 4, 1870. Available at https://www.papalencyclicals.net/councils/ecum20.htm

[16] “That is why we hold fast to all that has been believed and practiced in the faith, morals, liturgy, teaching of the catechism, formation of the priest and institution of the Church, by the Church of all time; to all these things as codified in those books which saw day before the Modernist influence of the Council. This we shall do until such time that the true light of Tradition dissipates the darkness obscuring the sky of Eternal Rome.” Archbishop Lefebvre, Declaration of 1974, Econe, Available online.

[17] Fr Robert Hugh Benson, Religion of the Plain Man, (and for UK readers), Burns and Oates, London, 1910, pp 128-9.

[18] St Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection, (and for UK readers), translated and edited by E. Allison Peers, Image Books, Garden City NY, 1964. From CCEL edition, Protestations. Available online here.

One thought on “Pope Leo XIII – On the Duties of Laymen to Study and Spread the Faith

  1. Patrick

    This looks like an old post and I don’t see comments, but the article acknowledges that it seems laymen do not have clear access to clerics who possess ordinary jurisdiction. A handful of us then go further and reject the input of the “traditional clergy” as the article calls them, something like this. So if the “known” Church is composed only of laymen, then it seems like naturally some form of leadership and organization forms around this reality.

    The historical precedent of the Japanese who were without clergy for a couple centuries comes to mind. They created a lay hierarchy of sorts. It should also be noted they engaged in syncretism, I believe, or a mixing of false religions with their religion, so they are perhaps not the best example to look to. But if we lack other examples, then it is some example to look to.

    Others have found a sermon from persecutions in France when it was thought there might be no clergy available: https://archive.org/details/letter-of-father-demaris-they-have-taken-away-my-lord

    Today there would also be those who were called to be clergy, but are unable to become clergy, but who might act kind of like clergy in the current circumstances. So our “home alone” view might be that the “traditional clergy” are to be as laymen acting kind of like clergy, but not as clergy.

    For example, laymen may validly and licitly administer baptism in danger of death. Hence it would seem these leaders in a “lay hierarchy” might administer baptism. Even setting aside the “home alone” view to some extent, if sedevacantism is true then most of the world is “home alone” – it is not realistic to presume that such people have access to “traditional clergy”. Therefore it would seem like a protocol should be developed, some guidelines, for such communities to exist and what rules they may follow to administer sacraments (if possible).

    This for the most part hasn’t happened among “home aloners” I don’t think, but maybe it will happen in the future. I do know of one group, but most other home aloners disagree with them on things, that seem to have a “rule of life” and have adopted some rules for complete community life. All the other “home alone” websites seem pretty incomplete in my view, as of this writing, on this topic (while they may have partial constructions).

    I think many of these discussions have had a lack of people participating and so no definite conclusion ends up being reached. Like this article for example, from a quick read I come away with a lack of clarity on what laymen are and aren’t allowed to do. I am mentioning in this comment post that they may administer baptism in an emergency for example, and the other sacraments may have similar adaptations to circumstances.

    There are other open questions I haven’t seen sedevacantists write about much, like that of “conclavism”, or sedevacantists electing a pope. There are many things that are reserved for the Holy See to decide on, which almost seems to imply the perpetual necessity of having a pope, like on the legitimacy of some annulments. So, one then might ask the question that, instead of setting up “independent clergy”, why not an “independent pope”, so to speak? Again, there aren’t really many people I’ve seen who have taken the time to read about this, let alone to create an informed opinion on the subject. There was that “pope Michael” conclave, but even if that effort is thought to be have been wrong, that doesn’t logically imply conclavism itself is unworkable.

    So I hope and pray that more progress is made on these issues, especially as time goes on and some things continue as they are.

    The WM Review:

    Thank you for your comment, Patrick, but there are too many unshared presuppositions here for us to be able to answer.

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