Countless times in various Christian circles I have been in throughout my life, there is a repeated theme that "we are the faithful remnant." Not always, but often, the assertion is made to bolster a claim to orthodoxy and righteousness, as opposed to the rest of the Church. In Catholic circles these days, it is sometimes asserted over and against our the vast majority of our bishops and even the Holy Father himself.
In this article, I will try to explain why in the Christian context (specifically Catholic Christian), this is at best a fallacy, offering points of varying importance and force. The goal here is to urge us to a better way of thinking about the Church, a mindset oriented more towards unity rooted in brotherly love towards our fellow Christians rather than isolationism, factionalism, and defensiveness.
1) From a strictly rational point of view, the remnant claim seems contrary to reason. The fewer people who hold to an idea, the less likely, on average, it is to be a correct account of reality. Numbers by no means guarantee the truth of an idea, but so much less so does having far fewer numbers than the majority, in itself, suggest truth.
2) From a logical point of view, it is a non sequitur. The proposition goes: we are few, therefore, we are the faithful. There is no logical connection between being few and being right.
3) From a simple terminological point of view, catholicism is defined by its universality, not its exclusivity. "That which has been believed, everywhere, always, and by all" does not jive with "that which is only believed by this small, particular group today."
4) From an ecclesiological point of view, conciliar activity is determined by majority or, ideally, consensus. Exactly zero councils/synods function on the notion that the smallest faction has the truth. It is precisely opposite. In determining both our laws and, in the case of ecumenical councils, infallible definitions of the faith, the majority rules, as long as it has the confirmation of the bishop of Rome.
5) From a historical point of view, the minority views, that is, the dissenters, more or less always fade into history. How many Arians do you know? How many Albigensians? How many monophysitists, patripassianists, Marcionites, Nestorians, or Donatists? How many Judaizers? This historical reality is a function of #3 and #4 above. Catholic truth is recognized by its catholicity, and we believe the Spirit guides the Church in councils in this way, sometimes even infallibly.
The remnant ideology comes primarily from the Old Testament prophetic books, where it may have been more applicable. The people of Israel did not have the New Covenant. They did not have the action of the Holy Spirit in the same way that the Church does in the New Covenant. They did not have the guarantee of Christ for the indefectibility of the Church--the visible Church headed by St. Peter and his successors. St. Paul mentions a remnant only in this sense: the remnant of the people of Israel whom God will redeem through grace (Rom 11), and that correlates with how God operated in the Old Covenant--a people apart, the few, the select. We, however, are under the New Covenant in the Church founded by Christ, and the Church operates differently, in accord with the mandate and charisms given it.
Revelations 12:17 in some translations refers to a "remnant," but others, including notably the more dependable ESV (as well as the NABre, RV, and Douay-Rheims), translate it as "the rest of her children." I would be the last person to attempt an authoritative exegesis of Revelations, but the context there is generally speaking, it seems, of the Church at large. In fact, given our ecclesiology, it seems it must be. It is not suggestive of an exclusive group within the Church. It generically says "all those who keep the commandments and have the testimony of Jesus Christ." That seems to be pretty much a definition for the Church as a whole. I mean, none of us except the saints perhaps keep the commandments perfectly, but we all try, and we all have the testimony of Jesus Christ by profession of faith and our baptism, that is, our membership in the Church, which is the ultimate testimony of Christ.
When you really think it through, the idea of the faithful remnant as some kind of exclusive, minority group within the Church just does not add up. It seems to be, rather, a romantic notion that is used to rationalize dissent from our bishops and even the Holy Father. As such, it is not actually romantic but spiritually dangerous, and we faithful would do well to shun its allure.
Given Catholic history, theology, and ecclesiology, it is far more likely that a minority view in the Church is one that is at variance with the true traditional Faith, the Faith that has been held everywhere, always, and by all. We must understand that this does not mean held in every detail and particular by every last member of the Church but rather more as a consensus, the sensus fidelium, and the sense of the Faith that is reliably taught through the living Magisterium in each succeeding age. It is decisively not, however, that which is held by a small minority against the majority within the Church.
And as I explored in my last article here, it is the living Magisterium, not we individuals anyways, who are the authentic guardians, expounders, and teachers of the Faith. It is the bishops--only when speaking as an ecumenical body in union with the Holy Father--who have the guarantee of infallibility. This, too, shows that truth, in Catholicism, is based on majority/consensus, rather than exceptionalism. In point of fact, the only exception to this rule of majority and consensus lies in the singular papal authority. Exceptions do not apply for particular individual bishops, nor for particular individual cardinals, and certainly not for we individual or small groups of laity, religious, or priests.
It is the living Magisterium who are the arbiters of the true sense of our traditional Faith, not we as individuals nor we as an association claiming to be an exclusive, minority faithful remnant within the Church.
Let us dispose, then, of the fallacy of the remnant that stands in opposition to the catholicity of the Church, the shared living faith of our brothers and sisters all over the world and, especially, our bishops in union with the Apostolic See. Let us remain with and in the whole Catholic Church and most especially united to Christ's vicar and our supreme pastor on earth, our Holy Father.