Br. Bugnolo’s Attempt to Redefine Dogmatic Facts Backfires: He Ends by Proving Francis is the Pope

Br. Bugnolo’s Attempt to Redefine Dogmatic Facts Backfires:
He Ends by Proving Francis is the Pope

This will be our second reply to Br. Bugnolo. In our first reply (here) we: 1) showed that Bugnolo has departed from all the theology manuals by entirely redefining the meaning of dogmatic facts to justify his schism; 2) We answered his objection about what constitutes a “legitimate election,” and 3) we quoted Cardinal Ratzinger’s Commentary on the 1989 Professio, which states that anyone who rejects the legitimacy of a papal election that has been accepted by the Magisterium, has denied a Catholic doctrine and therefore is no longer in communion with the Church.  Br. Bugnolo entirely ignored the last two points (and that is because he has no reply to them).

We quoted seven theologians, three of the top canonists of their day, two Cardinals and a Pope, and Br. Bugnolo simply dismissed or ignored them all, while marshalling no authorities for his self-created definition. Actually, he only “mentioned” three of the authorities we quoted, and he dismissed what these theologians wrote in their pre-Vatican II imprimatured books because “they were not bishops.”

In his reply, Br. Bugnolo conspicuously quoted no one. Instead, he attempted to defend his fabricated definition of dogmatic facts by appealing to what he was allegedly told by a teacher, and then gave a convoluted defense of a previous example he gave of a dogmatic fact, and without realizing it ended by proving that Francis is the Pope. We will see this later.

Now, since Br. Bugnolo dismissed the quotations we provided from the pre-Vatican II theological manuals because the authors “were not bishops,” in this reply we will rely primarily on quotations from Cardinal Ratzinger and Bertone’s official Commentary on the 1989 Profession of Faith (who would have the qualifications that Bugnolo requires).

We will start off by responding to Br. Bugnolo’s straw man argument. He begins by quoting us:

 “As we will see later, according to Cardinal Ratzinger himself, by rejecting the legitimacy of Francis’ election, Br. Alexis Bugnolo has rejected a truth of the faith…” (Siscoe and Salza)

The Faith is defined as the totality of Divine Revelation, when “the Faith” is used as a metynymic term for the whole of the Catholic Religion. Faith as a virtue is not called, “the faith” in English, as anyone who has ever taken a course in theology at a Catholic institution should have learned.

Comment: We were not speaking of the virtue of faith. We were speaking of a truth (singular) that is an object of faith. We said Br. Bugnolo has rejected a truth (object) of the faith – that is, he has rejected something that must be assented to by an act of faith. 

Based on his confusion that we were referring to the virtue of faith, Br. Bugnolo then writes:

Br. Bugnolo: “So when Mr. Siscoe and Mr. Salza classify Dogmatic Facts as truths of the faith, I have to shake my head. They have just redefined the Faith.  It is a truth of faith, but not of the Faith. It is a truth of faith, because faith requires implicitly that when we show obedience of assent to the teaching of the Magisterium, that we accept that certain authorities involved in is promuglation are in fact legitimate.”

No, dogmatic facts are indeed truths of the faith. Br. Bugnolo seems to be placing dogmatic facts in the third category of the Professio, as something that only requires a religious assent (obsequium religiosum), or “obedience of assent” as Bugnolo calls it, as opposed to the definitively and unqualified assent of faith.

The Professio has three categories of doctrines: 1) those that have been definitively proposed as revealed. 2) those that have been definitively proposed, but not “as revealed.” 3) Non-definitive Magisterial teachings. 

The first two categories require a definitive assent (cf. Canon 750, §1, §2) based on faith. Doctrines contained in the third category do not require an assent of faith, but only a religious assent of intellect and will (religiosum voluntatis et intellectus obsequium) (cf. Canon 752).  

The difference is that truths in the first two categories have been infallibly proposed, and are therefore irreformable, while those in the latter have not. Consequently, the “authentic ordinary” Magisterial teachings contained in the third category could be erroneous and require later revision (e.g., Pope Francis’ teaching on the death penalty, and his teaching in AL). 

Dogmatic facts belong to the second category – truths infallibly proposed which must be accepted with a definitive assent based on faith.

Here is the official commentary on the second category of truths, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, and signed by Cardinals Ratzinger and Bertone:

“The second proposition of the Professio fidei states: ‘I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.’

“The object taught by this formula includes all those teachings belonging to the dogmatic or moral area, which are necessary for faithfully keeping and expounding the deposit of faith, even if they have not been proposed by the Magisterium of the Church as formally revealed. Such doctrines can be defined solemnly by the Roman Pontiff when he speaks 'ex cathedra' or by the College of Bishops gathered in council, or they can be taught infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Church as a 'sententia definitive tenenda'.14 Every believer, therefore, is required to give firm and definitive assent to these truths [object], based on faith in the Holy Spirit's assistance to the Church's Magisterium, and on the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Magisterium in these matters.15 Whoever denies these truths would be in a position of rejecting a truth of Catholic doctrine16 and would therefore no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church.”

The Commentary goes on to provide examples of truths contained in this second category:

“The truths belonging to this second paragraph can be of various natures, thus giving different qualities to their relationship with revelation. … The fact that these doctrines may not be proposed as formally revealed, insofar as they add to the data of faith elements that are not revealed or which are not yet expressly recognized as such, in no way diminishes their definitive character, which is required at least by their intrinsic connection with revealed truth.  (…) With regard to those truths connected to revelation by historical necessity and which are to be held definitively, but are not able to be declared as divinely revealed, the following examples can be given: the legitimacy of the election of the Supreme Pontiff…”

We provided this quote in our first reply and Br. Bugnolo entirely ignored it. Also notice that the election of the Supreme Pontiff (dogmatic fact) is a truth that must be definitively held, but is “not able to be declared as divinely revealed.”  This shows that a dogmatic fact is a true of the faith – that is, a material object of faith, but not one that has been formally revealed.  Keep this in mind as you read Br. Bugnolo’s next comment:

Thus, as Mr. Siscoe and Mr. Salza rightly say, elsewhere in their article:

“Again, we see that a dogmatic fact must be believed with faith because of its connection to revealed truth, and is a fact that the Church judges infallibly due to its relation with a revealed truth.” (Siscoe and Salza)

Here, Mr. Siscoe and Mr. Salza change their definition of Dogmatic Fact. Now they say it regards revealed truth. Whereas before in their opening peroration they said it was “a truth of the faith”, which I explained, must mean a revealed truth. 

Comment: We didn’t change anything.  And we didn’t say dogmatic facts “regard a revealed truth”.  We said they are facts “connected to,” or “intimately related to” a revealed truth.

What is evident is that Br. Bugnolo only believes revealed truths can be a material object of faith, or as he puts it, “a truth of the faith.”  Thus, Bugnolo has eliminated the second category of truths contained in the Professio! That explains why he erroneously relegates dogmatic facts to the third category. 

If you’re wondering how Br. Bugnolo could have made this error in spite of the fact that we explained the three categories in our previous article, and quoted Ratzinger’s commentary on them, what we suspect is that Br. Bugnolo did not read our entire article all the way through before beginning his reply, but instead wrote his critique of each section, step-by-step, as he read it for the first time.  When he finally arrived at the last two sections that highlighted his error (Ratzinger’s commentary and the definition of Martin V), he simply ignored them, no doubt hoping no one would notice.  

Now, we should also note that many theologians maintain that dogmatic facts are implicitly revealed, as a particular proposition contained in a revealed universal.[1] For example:

1)                Every Pope who the Church accepts as duly elected is the successor of St. Peter (revealed universal). 
2)                The Church accepts Francis as the duly elected Pope (particular proposition).
3)                Therefore, Francis the successor of St. Peter (implicitly contained in revelation).

Those who hold this opinion maintain that the legitimacy of a Pope is an object of divine faith; those who do not, say it is an object of ecclesiastical faith.[2] But in either case, all theologians hold that dogmatic facts are doctrinal truths of the faith and hence must be held with the assent of faith.

Definitive Assent

Now, in his commentary on the Professio, Cardinal Ratzinger explains that the truths in the second category (dogmatic facts) must be held with an equally definitive assent of faith as those in the first category (i.e., dogmas). The only difference concerns the basis of the assent of faith.   

Doctrines in the first category are to be believed based directly on faith in God revealing (the definitive and infallible proposal of the Church conditions the assent[3]). The truths in the second category are to be held with an equally definitive assent, but on faith in the infallibility of the Magisterium teaching.

Here is Cardinal Ratzinger’s explanation:

“With regard to the nature of the assent owed to the truths set forth by the Church as divinely revealed (those of the first paragraph) or to be held definitively (those of the second paragraph), it is important to emphasize that there is no difference with respect to the full and irrevocable character of the assent which is owed to these teachings. The difference concerns the supernatural virtue of faith: in the case of truths of the first paragraph, the assent is based directly on faith in the authority of the word of God (doctrines de fide credenda); in the case of the truths of the second paragraph, the assent is based on faith in the Holy Spirit's assistance to the Magisterium and on the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Magisterium (doctrines de fide tenenda).

So dogmatic facts are indeed “truths of the faith,” and they require the same “full and irrevocable character of the assent” of faith, as revealed truths that have been solemnly defined by the Church (i.e., dogmas).  

Bugnolo continues by appealing to what he was allegedly told by a teacher to defend the example he gave of dogmatic facts:

“As anyone who has ever consulted a theology manual concerning dogmatic facts would know, the nomination of a bishop is not a dogmatic fact, regardless of whether he accepts the nomination. Neither is the choice of the Cardinals during a conclave.” (Siscoe and Salza) 

Here, I really got to chuckle.  Evidently, Mr. Siscoe and Mr. Salza think that dogmatic facts are like points in a cartesian plane, through which there are no intersecting lines. I know that this is false, because when I studied what dogmatic facts were under Dr. Peter Felhner, OFM Conv., I asked him the question:  If it is a dogmatic fact that Vatican I was a true council because it defined papal authority, then would not all the facts which lead to that also be dogmatic, like the fact that Pope Pius IX was the canonically elected, was validly ordained a Bishop, was validly baptized, and was born and existed. His answer was yes, they are remotely considered as dogmatic facts, whereas that Vatican I was a valid council is the proximate dogmatic fact.  

Let’s pause here. Bugnolo’s first mistake is referring to the election of Pius IX as a “remote dogmatic fact.” It would actually be what Br. Bugnolo classifies as a “proximate dogmatic fact” (i.e., real dogmatic fact).  The antecedent facts, (“remote dogmatic facts”) that Br. Bugnolo said “lead to” Pius IX being Pope (e.g., valid baptism, ordination, etc.) are what the theologians refer to as conditions.

The certainty that the man is Pope (proximate dogmatic fact), ipso facto results in an equal certainty that all the conditions (remote dogmatic facts) for him to become Pope were satisfied. The certainty the conditions were all satisfied is a theological conclusion derived from the de fide truth that the Pontiff, whose election has been accepted by the Church, is the true Pope. Here is the syllogism

a)     Major: Pope X is a legitimate Pope (de fide).
b)    Minor: For Pope X to have become a legitimate Pope, XYZ conditions had to be met.
c)     Conclusion: Since it is de fide that X is the legitimate Pope, it is infallibly certain that XYZ conditions were met.

“A” (Major) would fall into the category that Br. Bugnolo calls “proximate dogmatic facts” (even though seemed to categorize it as a “remote dogmatic fact”). “C” (Conclusion) would fall into Br. Bugnolo’s category of a “remote dogmatic facts” (also called “conditions”).  If “A” is certain, then “C” is equally certain as a theological conclusion.

Here is John of St. Thomas’ explanation of this point:

 “Now, the truth that is defined and accepted by the Church is not that this man is baptized or ordained, etc., but that this man is truly pope, and is the rule of faith.    That he is baptized and meets the other requirements is not held as de fide or defined by the Church, but is inferred as a consequence; and that something be inferred as a consequence does not require any preceding investigation.  The truth that this man has been ordained, and has the power of order (that is, of the priesthood or episcopate), is certain in the same way as the truth that he is baptized is certain; namely, not as a truth immediately de fide, but as a theological conclusion necessarily connected with the truth that he is the pope... Prior to the election, there is a moral certainty that all these conditions required in the person are actually met.  After the fact of the election and its acceptance, the fulfillment of these conditions is known with the certainty of a theological conclusion, since they have, per se, a logical implication with a truth that is certain, and certified by faith.

If it is certain that the man is Pope, it is equally certain that all the conditions required for him to have become Pope were met.  Let’s flesh this out in light of Cardinal Ratzinger’s commentary on the 1989 Professio.

If the Magisterium has accepted the election of a Supreme Pontiff, the legitimacy of the election is a truth that must be definitively held by faith in the infallibility of the Magisterium.

As a consequence of this de fide truth, it is held as a theological conclusion that he was baptized, ordained, accepted the election, etc. These consequent facts (or “conditions”) are certain due to the de fide truth that the man was legitimately elected as Supreme Pontiff.  As John of St. Thomas explains, these consequent facts were contingent before he became Pope, but “after the man has been accepted by the Church as pope, these consequents are no longer contingent, but necessary theological conclusions derived from a truth that is de fide.” 

Since the previously contingent facts or “conditions” (e.g. valid baptism, acceptance of the election, etc.) are now necessary theological conclusions, anyone who would seek to deny the de fide truth (i.e., the legitimacy of the Pope), by appealing to the lack of any condition (e.g., saying he never accepted the election), would be guilty of a logical absurdity. And that is precisely what Br. Bugnolo did in the example he used in an attempt to deny a dogmatic fact.  Here is what he wrote:

“Thus even a Conclave which followed all the rules … and resulted in the election of a man who was accepted by the whole Church (legitimacy is de fide), all the while the man insisted he never accepted (condition), then, that he was the pope would not be a dogmatic fact, even though it would be a dogmatic fact that the Cardinals chose him,” (Br. Bugnolo)

But if a Pope were elected by a Conclave that followed all the rules, and if he was accepted as Pope “by the whole Church” his legitimacy as Pope would be a truth of faith based on the infallibility of the Magisterium, as Cardinal Ratzinger explained earlier.  That the Pope accepted the election would be, as John of St. Thomas explained, a “necessary theological conclusion derived from a truth that is de fide.” 
Br. Bugnolo entirely inverts the order and seeks to disprove the infallibility of the Church in judging dogmatic facts, by using a logical absurdity. 

If the man is accepted as Pope by the entire Magisterium, it is de fide that he is the legitimate Pope, and ipso facto proof that all the antecedent conditions were met.

Br. Bugnolo Proves Francis is Pope

Next, Br. Bugnolo tries to defend his previous claim that the nomination of a man as bishop, who rejects the nomination, is a dogmatic fact, and ends up proving that Francis is the Pope! Let’s see how he does this.

Bugnolo: Also there are negative and positive dogmatic facts. A positive one is that which is connected to a dogma by positively affirming it. A negative one is that which is not connected to a dogma by affirming that contrary evidence is not authoritative. Such as for example the teaching did not come from an authentic source, which becomes dogmatic inasmuch as its negative demonstrates that the contrary doctrine is not dogmatic.

Wherefore, when I say the nomination of a bishop is a dogmatic fact, I am referring to remote historical dogmatic facts. I did not specify their connection to dogma, because in the context of my writing I am referring to the acts themselves inasmuch as they are classified. Obviously, the nomination of a man as Bishop does regard a dogmatic fact, because as Bishop he holds the ordinary power of the magisterium, and his teaching enters into the ordinary magisterium of the Church only if he is a licitly appointed or validly ordained Bishop of the Catholic Church holding jurisdiction. If he did not accept, then that he was not a Bishop is a negative dogmatic fact. But his appointment by the Pope is a remote dogmatic historical fact, inasmuch the act proves that the Pope was the true pope, and the Pope exercises the Magisterium which touches upon many points of doctrine affirming or which will be used to affirm the definition of dogma or doctrine int he future.”

First, how does the act of a Pope in nominating a bishop prove that he was a true Pope?  If that’s all it takes, then Br. Bugnolo has just proven that Francis is the true Pope, since Francis has nominated bishops.  It would also prove that every antipope during the Great Western Schism was a true Pope, since they all nominated bishops too. Bugnolo’s suggestion that the act of nominating a bishop “proves that the Pope was the true pope” makes a mockery of dogmatic facts.

Surely Dr. Felhner taught Bugnolo that it is not an act that the Pope performs that proves he’s the true Pope; it is the act of the Magisterium accepting his election as legitimate, and accepting him as the Roman Pontiff, that proves it.

The dogmatic fact concerns the Pope in the realm of being (he is the Pope, the Successor of Peter, the Head of the Church, etc.). The relation that the dogmatic fact of a Pope’s legitimacy has to papal acts, is that it proves the papal claimant who performed the acts was a true Pope. For example, without certain knowledge the Pius IX was a true Pope (dogmatic fact), there can be no certain knowledge that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception he defined was defined by a true Pope.

Br Bugnono simply does not understand dogmatic facts, and is clearly making things up as he goes along. That’s why he has been unable to locate any authoritative source that supports his position. In short, Br. Bugnolo does not have a clue what he is talking about on this subject matter.  If he understood this doctrine of the Church, and accepted it, he would know “as a theological conclusion” that Benedict’s abdication was valid.

In our next reply, we will point out the errors in Br. Bugnolo’s ministerium/munus argument.

[1] Cf. Cardinal Journet, The Church of the Word Incarnate, Vol. I, 1955, cap. vii, II, 1.A.; Van Noort, Sources of Revelation, 1957, p. 212.
[3] See Cardinal Journet, The Church of the Word Incarnate, cap. vii, II, b.1.)