Your comment seems at least to tend towards making of the Catholic religion a sort of Gnostic cult where no Catholic can ever know his faith until and unless the pope tells him what to believe, even if the pope tells him something totally different than past popes told him.
I have to admit, this is a new one on me. It had never occurred to me that adherence to the authority of the living pope, as a matter of presumption on the part of the ordinary faithful, could ever be construed as a form of gnosticism or as the logical error of appeal to authority (definition). So, I guess we could say that the postconciliar Church of today is the Gnostic Church of Vatican II.
I have never claimed that the traditionalist arguments have no plausibility whatever. What I have argued is that the only Church that Christ established is the one under the authority of His Vicar on earth. Papal teaching authority cannot be reduced to documents, nor can the living pope be put in a box until he is needed to define something. As I have already pointed out, the pope’s
power of jurisdiction in matters of faith, morals, discipline and government is supreme, universal, absolute, and immediate over the whole Church and each of its members. To deny this is heresy.
This being said, those who have a problem with papal teaching, particularly bishops and theologians, may have recourse to the Holy See in such a way that maintains the appropriate response to the Vicar of Christ. This would not include preaching against the Holy Father from the pulpit, attacking his teaching in the mass media, or using political pressure tactics and propaganda to achieve one’s own agenda. And here’s the rub: the traditionalists are so convinced of their position, that is, they believe their position is so self-evident and irrefutable on the face of it, that they are obliged to proclaim their convictions from the rooftops.
Therefore, from the point of view of someone like me, traditionalism is fundamentally subversive and irredeemably so, because the basis of their claim to a just cause is that it is the pope himself who is the subversive and cannot be trusted.
The Pope As Gnostic Guru
It is not altogether clear to me what traditionalists actually believe about the papal office. I have never claimed that the pope is always infallible. I have never claimed that he is ever impeccable. But I have claimed that the providence of God in regard to the Holy Father extends beyond the exercise of his infallibility. For example, by nature the office of shepherd (pastor) is not a protected by any guarantee of infallibility. That a particular pastoral decision might be mistaken is possible. That a habit of mind by which we hold the universal and supreme Pastor of the Church in suspicion until he guarantees that he is right is another matter.
Gnosticism proposes a direct relationship between enlightenment and worthiness. It is fundamentally elitist because it presumes that the mass of men are reprobate or only savable through those few who are capable of knowing the hidden truth. In Gnosticism who decides who is worthy? Well, of course, the worthy! Gnosticism is imposed from above by those with power in the service of their own agenda. This is why Pope Benedict succinctly identified Gnosticism as “intellectual elitism.” I believe that both modernism and traditionalism are gnostic.
The papacy is not man’s idea. It is not an ancient secret. No one makes Catholicism a “gnostic religion,” by affirming the doctrinal and pastoral authority of Peter. Yes, there are a lot of smart Catholics out there and many of them may be smarter than the pope. But the Catholic religion has never been about following the smartest guy in the room. The first pope was decidedly not the smartest guy in the room. It is Christ who made the Church work the way it does, and it is Christ who in a mysterious way protects the Church through the office of Peter, even when Peter fails in virtue and in his teaching.
But the traditionalists will on the one hand argue that their positions are self evident, and when you point out to them that, no, they have not shown that their position is metaphysically necessary they bring out their very impressive list of alleged papal aberrations. It is like experiencing a Protestant marshal verse after verse from the Bible to prove that the discourse on the Bread of Life in John 6 cannot be taken literally, and that the one and only possible explanation for the text is the one they propose. In the midst of such a discussion you know that there is nothing you could possible say that will convince them otherwise.
The pope is only a guardian and transmitter of the deposit of the faith. He cannot change anything. But that does not mean that everything is always simple. With Vatican II, the Church presented a take on the problem of modernity in a way that was innovative. I have argued that that approach is not a contradiction of the previous magisterium, but in many ways it is contrary to it, that is, different from it, because perennial teaching has been applied in new ways to pastoral questions that were in need of a new approach. Traditionalists will argue that it is self-evident that postconciliar teaching changed irreformable doctrine. And if they cannot get away with that they will try to be the smartest guy in the room. I am decidedly not the smartest guy in the room, so I follow the pope in Rome instead of the pope in the room.
Either you have a principle of authority to settle controversies and maintain unity or you don’t. For this reason, I think the sedevacantists are far more consistent in their position than the other traditionalists. Recourse to the pope to settle controversies is not the practice of gnosticism. But we get closer to that beast when the smartest guy in the room starts waving a text in your face and tells you that if you don’t agree with his interpretation then you are denying what is self-evident.
Recourse to the Pope as an Argument from Authority
The argument from authority asserts that the expertise of the one making a claim guarantees its truth. It is a logical fallacy. Expertise proves nothing. But the argument from authority has nothing to do with the papal office. We do not say that the Holy Father is the smartest guy in the room. And even if he is, as would be the case most of the time with Pope Benedict, we do not follow him for that reason. We follow him because he has received his office directly from Christ who says: He who hears you hears me. There is no natural explanation for this. One cannot reduce the providence of God to an airtight syllogism. There are many apparent contradictions in life and in particular in respect to things we cannot see. We have a pope to guide us through such problems, not because of some presumption based on expertise or juridical authority, but because he has been given a mandate from Christ to teach.
I do not have a practical argument with those who are compelled by their convictions to withhold internal consent from this or that postconciliar teaching. But those who evangelize and catechize against the Holy Father are another matter. Yes, I think they should pray that they are right, and no I am not afraid of being wrong, because if I am, I am only following the one Christ told me to follow.
Is there more faith in that than reason? Of course. But the cause of supernatural faith is the grace of God. Reason has its place in faith because faith is an intellectual virtue. But reason is not the cause of faith. God is. I’ll stick with what Christ told me to do. Otherwise, what is the point?