The following very curious comment was made on a forum recently by somebody calling himself "TOFP": “The Church is a visible, hierarchical social unit. It is not a mysterious invisible entity hidden within that visible Church, whose members are determined by private judgment...”
On the face of it this may appear to be a straight-forward and reasonable set of claims. Actually, it is a sophism, consisting of a truth followed by incoherent nonsense.
It is true that the Catholic Church is a visible, hierarchical, social unit. Indeed, that’s an excellent summary of several connected truths concerning the Church. Let’s expand those truths so that we can perceive their implications, and then we will be in a position to examine, for coherence and truth, the second sentence.
When we say that the Church is visible, we mean two things. First, that there are elements which are perceptible by the senses, and second, that these elements are recognisable as belonging to a particular social body. There is a third, related, truth, which in this context we need to consider, and that is that the Church also teaches that this particular social body, or society, which men can recognise by its external features or marks, has exactly the nature established by our Lord Jesus Christ when He founded His Church. So, there are external marks; these taken together constitute the clear signs of a society; and that society is identical with that founded by Christ. Or, taking these truths in the order in which they are usually presented in apologetics manuals, according to the Scriptures Our Lord established a perfect society which is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic; these marks are externally verifiable features which are essential to the Church, so that it is impossible that for even one moment she may be without any one of them; men may recognise, with perfect security, the Church established by Our Lord from these four marks, and indeed they are obliged to do so in order to be saved.
Now, this entire chain of reasoning rests upon the traditional understanding of human nature which is both common sense and, more technically, Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy. That is, man as he instinctively and naturally knows himself, or, putting exactly the same truth in different terms, as he is described by Scholastic philosophy. What is this understanding? Insofar as it is relevant to this discussion, man is a rational creature; he has the use of reason. The human mind receives sense impressions from outside, perceives in those impressions certain realities, forms ideas or concepts which express those realities, and then proceeds to compare those ideas one with another. We can put these notions into more technical language, and speak of phantasms, the intelligible intellect, the process of abstraction, and such like, but there’s no need to do so here. What is important is to know that this is the traditional description of how the human person observes reality and recognises it, and arrives at the point where he can form judgements, by the process of comparison, for it is in judging that man’s intellect really gets down to its most important business.
The notion of forming a judgement is actually simple. It is the comparing of one idea (e.g. “a Catholic” in the abstract) with another idea (the concrete example of a person before me, who is saying that he knows that the Church teaches “X” but he believes “Y”). The human mind cannot help but form judgements, even if it decides that a particular judgement is beyond its power for the time being, for that is in itself a judgement, a conclusion from the reasoning process. “To form a judgement requires certitude; but I cannot achieve certitude in this matter; therefore I cannot form a judgement about this matter at present.” We are creatures of logic, and our minds work the way that God designed, whether we like it or not.
St. Thomas explains: "Now the reason is speculative and practical: and in both we find the apprehension of truth (which pertains to the discovery of truth), and judgment concerning the truth. Accordingly, for the apprehension of truth, the speculative reason is perfected by 'understanding'; the practical reason, by 'counsel.' In order to judge aright, the speculative reason is perfected by 'wisdom'; the practical reason by 'knowledge.'" Emphasis added. The Angelic Doctor is here referring to the two operations of the intellect, the first being simple apprehension (understanding what's there), the second being judgement (comparing what's there with another thing also known to be true). It should be sufficiently clear that the bald phrase, beloved of liberals, "Don't judge!", is at best a denial of human nature, and at worst, a heresy. Holy Writ tells us to "Judge justly." St. Jerome states, "Christ does not altogether forbid judging, but directs us how to judge. Where the thing does not regard us, we should not undertake to judge. Where it will bear a favourable interpretation, we should not condemn. Magistrates and superiors, whose office and duty require them to judge faults, and for their prevention to condemn and punish them, must be guided by evidence, and always lean towards the side of mercy, where there are mitigating circumstances. Barefaced vice and notorious sinners should be condemned and reprobated by all." [Emphasis added.] The last point illustrates that some judgements can and ought to be made even by private individuals. Quotes such as these could be multiplied indefinitely, for the moral theologians all handle this question under "rash judgement". McHugh and Callan explain, "Judgement is either public or private. (a) Public judgement is passed by a judge who has the authority to compel disputing parties to abide by his decisions. (b) Private judgement is passed by individuals without public authority concerning the morals or conduct of others." There is not a word in the approved authors forbidding private judgement in the proper, Catholic, sense.
Now, taking this understanding and returning to the truths of apologetics, we can see how it is that God has arranged things with perfect justice, and immeasurable kindness, so as to make it easy for all to arrive at that minimum necessary knowledge of the Church which will suffice to convince a man of good will to enter and find eternal salvation. He has created man with senses, an intellect, and with divine revelation proved by public miracles. He has ensured access for all to that revelation and to the facts of those miracles, in reliable historical records. All that He expects of those outside the Church is that they examine the data with dispassionate and fair dispositions, and draw the obvious conclusions from it – and then act upon those conclusions.
What are these data? After grasping the fact of revelation and its proofs, we proceed to the content of that revelation, which in this case is the four marks of the Church. The first of these is unity. Consider St. Robert Bellarmine’s explanation, in his famous Controversies:
"The Church is a definite society, not of angels, or of spirits, but of men. Therefore it cannot be called a human society unless bound together by external and visible signs. How could it be a society unless those who belong to it recognized each other as members? And being men, they have no other means of mutual recognition than the sensible and external bonds by which the society is united."
What are these bonds? They are twofold, faith and charity. (John Salza, an American who calls himself a “Scripture Catholic,” asserts that there are three external bonds of unity. He reaches this false conclusion by confusing the external bonds of the Church with the three conditions which qualify a man as a member – i.e. profession of faith, sharing in the sacraments, subjection to the hierarchy. Actually, there are two bonds of unity, and another external factor - authority - which exists to foster and protect the two bonds.) St. Robert Bellarmine teaches that men may recognise each other as members of the Church by these two bonds, faith and charity. This makes no sense at all outside of the traditional understanding of man’s nature as described above. For without that understanding, it would be impossible to see how an individual could know from sense data that another individual manifests certain characteristics that qualify him as a member of the Church. This is because such knowledge is actually a judgement. It is formed by comparing the concepts of faith and charity with the words and behaviour of the object, the individual human person who may or may not be a member of the Church.
I trust that at this point it is clear what is wrong with the sentence quoted at the beginning of this explanation. “[The Church] is not a mysterious invisible entity hidden within that visible Church, whose members are determined by private judgment...” No, it is not. The Church is a visible unity whose members are known, with certitude, by the usual human means of forming judgements. That is, by comparison with a known standard, the members of the Church are enabled mutually to recognise each other. As St. Robert Bellarmine says, they have no other means of doing so. Nor is this properly referred to as “private judgement” – a clear allusion to the Protestant false principle – for that is a judgement formed not according to a known, public, standard, but rather according to whatever standard the individual chooses. If all judgements by individuals are “private judgement” in the Protestant sense, then apologetics has no method, man has no mind, and the Church cannot be identified. She is, for a man who eschews the proper business of his own mind, objectively invisible.
Of course, the liberal cannot distinguish the perfectly clear and distinct ideas, a judgement of the intellect, and a judicial judgement. Why is this? It is because the liberal, having no clear concept of the rule of law, does not appreciate the proper role of the individual as responsible and free, and imagines that the only judgements which are licit are those made by the tyrant. The true essential difference between an intellectual judgement and a judicial one is that the latter, having authority as its source, binds all, whereas the former, having conscience as its sanction, can only bind the subject who forms it.
It should be immediately apparent that for those who have adopted, consciously or not, liberal philosophy, all of the above will be at best confusing, and at worst confronting and distressing. For if there’s one thing a liberal hates, it is the notion that one man may form a judgement about another. Ironically, liberalism in philosophy (whether of the Kantian, Hegelian, or Humean flavour) inevitably leads to the worship of raw power. The process is best understood by comparison with that which occurs under a traditional regime of true authority. The traditional philosophy accurately describes and defends the normal process of apprehension and reasoning performed by the human mind. It also accurately describes and defends the principle of authority, with which is intimately associated the notion of the rule of law. God-given authority commands its subjects by establishing general laws; the subjects regulate their conduct by forming judgements of proposed actions against the public standard which is the law; the authority judges and punishes, as necessary, any infractions of the law. Within this framework, the individual is responsible, accountable, expected to employ his judgement; and he is free. His freedom is entire, as long as he obeys the law. His freedom suffers if he infracts the law, and only if he infracts the law. He even knows, in advance, what punishment he will suffer if he chooses disobedience. He is free to disobey and take his punishment, if he is so foolish. He chooses from clear alternatives, with known consequences. He can live safely and joyfully in a walled garden.
Under a fully liberal regime, the principle of authority is denied, and there is only power. The ruler commands by issuing direct orders or making more or less vague statements of policy, and the subjects never know for sure whether they are safe from his power. There is no such thing as the rule of law, only arbitrary “norms” which, being arbitrary, have no consistency with each other and possess no precision. The subjects learn not to exercise their judgement, but to await hints and directions from the powers that be. The walls being thrown down, nobody knows where the limits are, but all know that there are limits and there may be severe consequences for transgressing them. Political correctness holds sway, and abusive propaganda replaces orderly processes conducted according to clear principles. In such an environment, the individual loses all sense of responsibility and looks instinctively to “authority” (which is really just power without true authority) to make all judgements for him. His life is incredibly stressful, precisely because he can never tell with certitude what is safe conduct and what isn’t. The bitter irony of liberalism is precisely that in pursuit of freedom, all true liberty is lost, and man ends in abject slavery. The final point to observe about the man infected with liberalism is that he adopts the mode of operation of the system, and becomes personally abusive of those others who obey authority and form judgements responsibly according to principles.
The New Church is such a tyranny. It utterly refuses to issue clear doctrinal instruction which is binding on all, or to enforce any such doctrinal law with proper juridical processes. Instead, it operates by vague declarations of abstract and unreal policy, and defamatory propaganda against “dissenters.” Since there is no rule of law, there can be no appeal on the part of individuals to a superior principle. The imposition of the New Mass, and the destruction of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, are book-end examples of this classic despotism. Clear and binding law was eschewed, and administrative tyranny employed in its place, in both cases.
The effect of fifty years of this tyranny has been profound, not least upon the fundamental notions that govern the instincts of the faithful who have been subjected to it. The effects vary by individual, so that we can recognise this false philosophy at the bottom of liberal Catholicism, neo-Catholicism and semi-traditionalism. The sophism against which this present explanation is directed is an example of the latter. The semi-traditionalist is precisely the man who thinks of himself as holding traditional principles, but who is horrified by the notion of forming a judgement and taking responsibility for it. Such a man cannot actually see the Church, because to do so requires comparing concrete human words and behaviour with a known standard as taught by the Church. His principles are not public ones, but precisely private ones – that is, his own. For such an one, the Church is indeed an invisible entity, as determined by his private judgment and only visible insofar as the tyrant commands him to see. Like all liberals, he is prostrate as he awaits “authority” to make all judgements for him, terrified as he is of falling afoul of the cries of the mob, and even more terrified of actually thinking and acting upon principles that he claims to uphold: for in truth he doesn’t hold them, he gives them lip-service.
For such a man the notion of the external bonds of unity of the Church - especially of the profession of faith - is an empty formula. Since he recognises a tyranny as authority, and that tyranny (of course!) will not and does not enforce any doctrinal law, he has no objective standard against which to measure his own status or that of others. He simply cannot form intellectual judgements about who is a Catholic and who isn't. Instead of being a unity of those who, primarily, profess the same true faith, the Church is implicitly redefined as an assembly of those who profess whatever they like, as long as they verbally recognise the putative authority. Contrary to the teaching of Pius XII, such a man suppresses the notion that anybody may leave the Church by his own act, and instead reduces all questions of membership to declarations by authority.
All of this is of course unconscious in the Catholics so infected. Sadly, they do not even know how far from tradition their ideas are, and in such a state there is no hope that they can recover clarity of thought, or even understand the traditional formulas of the catechism and the theology books.