This is the last installment of a series that I originally planned to be just two posts, but has turned out to be four. I link to them, not in the order that I posted them, but in the order of their logical development. First, there is a bit of background about my own experience and formation with the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and what I mean by the term “traditionalism,” and why I think a discussion of it is important (“Traditionalism and Liturgy”). Second, is a an explanation of the stated motives of Pope Benedict XVI for having promulgated the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum and what he means by the “reform of the reform” (“The Spirit of Summorum Pontificum”). The third installment is an examination of what the current debate over the “hermeneutic of continuity” is all about and why a statement of Pope Benedict has been used speciously as a pretext to question the continuity of Vatican II with Tradition (“Traditionalist Sleight of Hand”). And lastly, here I wish to illustrate the current problem of sympathy for traditionalism by means of the contrast between traditionalist incursions and the responses to them from the Vatican over the last several years.
On October 11, 2011, Pope Benedict promulgated an apostolic letter, Porta Fidei, “the Door of Faith” in which he announced “A Year of Faith” to begin in exactly one year on October 11, 2012, the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and the twentieth anniversary of the publication of The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict tells us that he is following in the footsteps of his predecessor, the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, who in 1967 announced a year of faith to commemorate the nineteenth centenary of the martyrdoms of Saints Peter and Paul.
I believe that this announcement is both providential and calculated. The Holy Father is taking opportunity of the providence of God in the arrival of these anniversaries to address a mounting “orthodox” contempt for the Second Vatican Council—a traditionalist sleight of hand that proposes to dissect the Council and analyze it according to contingent opinions about Tradition and then invoke Pope Benedict as the one who mandated the exercise. For a growing number of traditional Catholics, in spite of fifty years of papal teaching, the problems of our times within the Church were not occasioned by disintegration of modernity hitting the Church at the time of the Council. On the contrary, they tell us, the Council itself has been the cause of a great anti-dogmatic revolution. And Pope Benedict is on their side, they say!
These discontented Catholics do have reasons for their doubts concerning the Council. There is, indeed, a crisis of faith and its effects on Catholic life have been dire. However, a historical analysis of the last fifty years is not my burden. It is more important to discern the actual position of the Holy Father and to understand his reasoning. I believe that Porta Fidei and the Year of Faith is only the latest effort of the Holy Father to proclaim, defend and emphasize his long held and enduring teaching, which happens to be consistent with fifty years of papal magisterium.
In Porta Fidei, Pope Benedict points to the crisis of modernity, so much a topic of the Second Vatican Council, but he also makes necessary distinctions. Let us begin by examining the problem of modernity as the Holy Father sees it:
Whereas in the past it was possible to recognize a unitary cultural matrix, broadly accepted in its appeal to the content of the faith and the values inspired by it, today this no longer seems to be the case in large swathes of society, because of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people (Porta Fidei).
The Holy Father simply states the bare fact of modernity. For better or for worse, we no longer live in a society in which most people operate on first principles that accord with the perennial teaching of the Church. In the face of this, the Pope Benedict desires the faithful to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. He wants them to do the works of God, by drawing lost souls to the truth (Ibid. 3, referencing Mt 5:13-16 and Jn 6:28-29). But one can only get to God by freely passing through the “door of faith.” The emphasis of the Second Vatican Council on religious liberty was not a denial of the one true faith, but the recognition that modernity needs to be confronted with persuasion—the salt of the earth and the light of the world—rather than coercion, which in the form of tyranny, tribalism, pogroms and terrorism, has been one of the characteristic downfalls of modernity.
Approximately a year prior to his election to the See of Peter, Cardinal Ratzinger said that while he, like Pope John Paul II, hoped for a new springtime in the Church, he did not anticipate mass conversions. This position does not indicate a lack of zeal, but a caution in regard to a false notion of the power behind conversion. He said that small, convinced communities provide the “future for the world,” in which souls are brought to God because of the “truth” held by believers and “the force of conviction.” He said: “Even when Constantine made Christianity the public religion, there were a small number of percentage at that time [sic.]; but it was clear, this is the future” (ibid.).
In this light, Pope Benedict also points to what motivated Paul VI to announce a Year of Faith in 1967. He notes that Paul VI was urging upon the whole Church
“an authentic and sincere profession of the same faith”; moreover, he wanted this to be confirmed in a way that was “individual and collective, free and conscious, inward and outward, humble and frank”. He thought that in this way the whole Church could reappropriate “exact knowledge of the faith, so as to reinvigorate it, purify it, confirm it, and confess it (Porta Fidei, 4, quoting Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation, Petrum et Paulum Apostolos, Rome, February 22, 1967).
Like Paul VI, Pope Benedict expressly sees this Year of Faith as a “consequence and a necessity of the postconciliar period” (Ibid. 5, quoting Paul VI, General Audience, Rome, June 14, 1967). The “grave difficulties” of the postconciliar period are not entirely behind us and it is necessary to secure “the profession of the true faith and its correct interpretation (ibid.).
If “the work” of God is that men should believe in the Him whom He has sent, then the work of the Second Vatican Council to deal with the problem of modernity is critical (cf., Jn 6:29). This has not been an effort without grave difficulties. However, in spite of the troubles of the last fifty years since the Council, and regardless how one may analyze them, the Holy Father remains confident the Council correctly understood is the way to a life of renewed faith among men.
In Porta Fidei, Pope Benedict expresses his confidence that this year of faith will help to accomplish what Blessed Pope John Paul II hoped for, namely, that the texts of Vatican II would be more widely read “correctly” and “taken to heart as important and normative texts of the Magisterium, within the Church’s Tradition” (Ibid., quoting Apostolic Letter, Novo Millennio Ineunte, January 6, 2001, 57). Again, quoting Blessed John Paul II, Pope Benedict is emphatic about his support for the Second Vatican Council and his urgent call to assimilate its teaching:
“I feel more than ever in duty bound to point to the Council as the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century: there we find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning.” I would also like to emphasize strongly what I had occasion to say concerning the Council a few months after my election as Successor of Peter: “if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church” (Ibid., quoting Novo Millennio, op. cit., 57 and Benedict XVI, “Address to the Roman Curia Offering them His Christmas Greetings,” December 22, 2005).
Hermeneutic of Reform
In the above quote, Pope Benedict makes one of his most recent of many references to his Christmas address to the Roman Curia of December 22, 2005, delivered shortly after his election as Successor of St. Peter. He continues to insist that the way forward toward renewal is via the Second Vatican Council and its correct interpretation, “guided by a right hermeneutic.” Indeed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reinforces this in its “Note with pastoral recommendations for the Year of Faith,” published on January 6, 2012:
From the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI has worked decisively for a correct understanding of the Council, rejecting as erroneous the so-called “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” and promoting what he himself has termed “the ‘hermeneutic of reform’, of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God” (quoting Benedict XVI, December 22, 2005).
The Year of Faith is not merely occasioned by the celebration of anniversaries of certain milestones in the history of the modern Church. Pope Benedict is taking the opportunity that these anniversaries serve to focus our attention on the preservation of the faith precisely by adherence to the Second Vatican Council and The Catechism of the Catholic Church.
To this end the Congregation offers a number of pastoral recommendations at various levels (universal Church, episcopal conferences, dioceses, parishes) in order to accomplish this task. For example: the study of the primary documents of the Council and the Catechism by seminarians and those members of Institutes of Consecrated Life in formation; the republication of the texts of Vatican II and the Catechism and their proliferation in electronic form; translation of the same texts into languages into which they have never been translated before; pastoral letters from bishops on the importance of the Second Vatican Council and The Catechism of the Catholic Church; homilies based on a renewed study by priests of the documents of Vatican II and The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Clearly the Holy Father and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are focusing our attention on the subjects of the two anniversaries as the source of the renewed vitality of the Church hoped for by the popes of the last fifty years (Pastoral Note).
Partisans of Doubt
As the pope continuously promotes the Second Vatican Council and its correct interpretation, the new self-appointed “guardians” of Tradition persist in their attempt to tear the Council down. Of particular interest is the sequence of events, a timeline of conflict between faith and doubt, surrounding the announcement of the Year of Faith by Pope Benedict and the particular involvement of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Over the last year or so there has been an ongoing debate among theologians, journalists and bloggers about the possibility of the hermeneutic of continuity, that is, there is a question in the minds of some whether Pope Benedict is correct and the Council can be interpreted in continuity with Catholic Tradition. But before we look at a timeline, we should first examine a bit of background.
The hermeneutic of rupture is a principle of interpretation relative to the Council that is shared by both modernists and traditionalists. In the December 22, 2005 address the Holy Father explains that the hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture posits the existence and disjunction of a pre- and post-conciliar Church. This view regards the Second Vatican Council as a compromise between Tradition and modernity, in which the texts of the Council themselves broke with the past, but did not fully and explicitly indicate how radical and complete that break actually was. According to this narrative, the pope tells us, the texts themselves were compromises born of the necessity to reach some sort of unanimity among the council fathers. “However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts (December 22, 2005). This is the origin of that enthusiastic and amorphous infatuation with the “spirit of the Council.” The remarkable thing is that both modernists and traditionalists hold this interpretative principle. They both believe that the Council is a rupture with Tradition, the modernists because the Council did not explicitly go far enough, and the traditionalists because it went too far.
Attendant upon this “compromise” interpretation of the Council is the notion that the nature of the Council was political, “a sort of constituent that eliminates an old constitution and creates a new one” (ibid.). Both modernists and traditionalists believe that the Council democratized the Church. Modernists have spent the last fifty years tearing down or ignoring all disciplinary structures and misusing the conciliar ideals of the dignity of the human person, religious liberty, collegiality and subsidiarity as a pretext for reinventing everything from sexual morality, to liturgy, to God Himself (or herself, they would say). Unfortunately, traditionalists agree that the innovation of the Council was not an aspect of its continuity with Tradition but a surrender to the political, progressivist forces of the left. For both modernists and traditionalists it is the revolution of modernity that defines the real meaning of the Council.
But the Holy Father counters that the Council was not and could not be a constitutional convention:
However, the Constituent Assembly needs a mandator and then confirmation by the mandator, in other words, the people the constitution must serve. The Fathers had no such mandate and no one had ever given them one; nor could anyone have given them one because the essential constitution of the Church comes from the Lord and was given to us so that we might attain eternal life and, starting from this perspective, be able to illuminate life in time and time itself (ibid.).
In one of my recent posts, I commented on a Christmas message delivered by Bishop Bernard Fellay to the Society of St. Pius X in which He compared the Christ Child, as “King of Peace,” to his view of the proper understanding of the way in which the Church ought to be governed:
. . . the Church has always proclaimed herself to be a monarchy, governed by one man. Certainly, the human character of government makes it quite understandable to seek counsel and the advice of wise persons, but a form of democracy imported into the Church by collegiality and by the parliamentary parody of bishops’ conferences allows all sorts of abuses and subjects to group pressure the decrees of Divine Law that declare that each diocese has only one head, the bishop of the locality.
I cannot say that he does not have a point relative to sloughing off of episcopal authority onto bishops’ conferences. But the purpose of his letter is to attack the Council and the consistent teaching of the popes of the last fifty years on the question of collegiality. Furthermore, traditionalists will be the first ones to quote Cardinal Ratzinger’s statement that the “the pope is not an absolute monarch whose will is law” ” (quoted by Father Nicholas Gruner from the preface to Alcuin Reid’s The Organic Development of the Liturgy).
In fact, The mutual politicization of the Church by modernists and traditionalists is a left versus right dynamic, a constitutional civil war. Modernists want a constitutional democracy based on radical human autonomy as a product of the Enlightenment and French Revolution. Traditionalists are looking for the restoration of an “analogous traditional elite,” and the restructuring of society on the medieval model, imposed from above by coercion, if necessary through a “counter-revolutionary dictatorship.” Pope Benedict continues to maintain, as the Vicar of Christ, that the Council did not turn the Church into a political democracy. Thus, true adherence to Tradition does not mandate a counter-revolution. Pope Benedict continues to resist the common error of both modernists and traditionalists, namely, that the Council was a political revolution.
And now to my timeline leading to the Year of Faith: it illustrates the progression of certain ideas now gaining currency in orthodox circles and how the Holy Father is responding to them.
- December 22, 2005: Pope Benedict, shortly after his election as Successor of St. Peter, delivers his address to the Roman Curia, outlining the postconciliar crisis and the correct interpretative principles of the Second Vatican Council. The Holy Father strongly reaffirms the wisdom of the Council and its direction, upholding the need for “the dialogue between reason and faith,” “on the basis of the Second Vatican Council.” He goes on to say: “This dialogue must now be developed with great openmindedness but also with that clear discernment that the world rightly expects of us in this very moment. Thus, today we can look with gratitude at the Second Vatican Council: if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church” (December 22, 2005).
- July 7, 2007: the promulgation of the apostolic letter of Benedict XVI, issued motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum (taking force September 14, 2007) “on the use of the Roman Liturgy prior to the reform of 1970,” mandating the free use of the old missal as the “Extraordinary Form” of the Roman Rite. The Holy Father expresses his purpose in terms of responding “to the insistent prayers” of those who “adhered and continue to adhere with great love and affection to the earlier liturgical forms.” In the letter accompanying the motu proprio, the Holy Father also expresses his hope that the biformity of the Roman Rite “can be mutually enriching.”
- January 21, 2009: Pope Benedict lifts the excommunication of the four SSPX bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1988. In a letter to all the bishops of March 10, 2009, he clarifies that the lifting of the excommunication and its remission “affects individuals, not institutions”: “The remission of the excommunication was a measure taken in the field of ecclesiastical discipline: the individuals were freed from the burden of conscience constituted by the most serious of ecclesiastical penalties. This disciplinary level needs to be distinguished from the doctrinal level. The fact that the Society of Saint Pius X does not possess a canonical status in the Church is not, in the end, based on disciplinary but on doctrinal reasons.”
- March, 2009: Eminent Italian theologian, Monsignor Brunero Gherardini has his book, Il Concilio Vaticano II: Un discorso da fare (The Ecumenical Vatican Council II: A Much Needed Discussion), published by the Franciscan of the Immaculate, together with an open letter to the Holy Father in which he questions the possibility of a hermeneutic of continuity, placing the burden of proof on Pope Benedict to demonstrate rather than declaim the continuity of the Council with Tradition. Monsignor Gherardini calls for “a grand and possibly definitive ordering of the last Council in all of its dimensions and content,” to be conducted by “the most prestigious, secure and renowned specialists in every sector which Vatican II touches upon.” Gherardini effectively subordinates the magisterium of the pope to a committee of “scientific theologians.”
- December 16-18, 2010: The Franciscan of the Immaculate sponsor a Conference in Rome, Concilio Ecumenico Vaticano II: Un Concilio Pastorale, Analisi Storico, Filosofico, Teologica (The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: A Pastoral Council – Historical, Philosophical and Theological Analysis). Among the conference speakers are Monsignor Brunero Gherardini, and Italian professor of history and editor of the Italian monthly Radici Cristiane, Roberto De Mattei. The latter is also the founder of The Lepanto Foundation, “a non-profit institution founded in Washington, D.C., in March 2001,” whose “stated mission is to defend the principles and institutions of Western Christian civilization.” De Mattei is also an admirer and biographer of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, founder of the Brazilian civic organization, The Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property. He and his Lepanto Foundation seem to operate on the same principles laid out by De Oliveira in the latter’s book Revolution and Counter-Revolution.
- April, 2011: The December, 2010 conferences by Gherardini and De Mattei set off a firestorm of controversy. The semi-official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano publishes articles by Inos Biffi and Agostino Marchetto that severely critiqued the conferences of Gherardini and De Mattei. In particular, De Mattei has successfully managed to turn Pope Benedict’s invitation to “dialogue” on the basis of the “right hermeneutic” as an invitation to “debate” the possibility of the very same hermeneutic. (See De Mattei’s article: “A Council Can Also Make Mistakes”). (The December 22, 2005 conference is used over and over by the partisans of doubt as a pretext for debating the very possibility of a hermeneutic of continuity: a very effective bit of sleight of hand.)
- May 1, 2011: Pope Benedict beatifies his predecessor, Pope John Paul In his homily Pope Benedict quotes the newly beatified: “‘I would like once again to express my gratitude to the Holy Spirit for the great gift of the Second Vatican Council, to which, together with the whole Church – and especially with the whole episcopate – I feel indebted. I am convinced that it will long be granted to the new generations to draw from the treasures that this Council of the twentieth century has lavished upon us. As a Bishop who took part in the Council from the first to the last day, I desire to entrust this great patrimony to all who are and will be called in the future to put it into practice. For my part, I thank the Eternal Shepherd, who has enabled me to serve this very great cause in the course of all the years of my Pontificate’. And what is this ‘cause’? It is the same one that John Paul II presented during his first solemn Mass in Saint Peter’s Square in the unforgettable words: ‘Do not be afraid! Open, open wide the doors to Christ!’” The Society of St. Pius X responded responded by stating the following: “Whereas St. Pius X wanted to restore all things in Jesus Christ (according to the original in Greek: to recapitulate, to place Christ at the head), John Paul II only wanted to open things up to Christ, by simply proposing Him to society, to culture, to political and economical systems, – and that in the name of a religious liberty paradoxically conceived as a dogma by an officially pastoral council.” The SSPX author concludes by calling the Council’s teaching on religious liberty “a rupture.”
- September 14, 2011: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith presents Bishop Fellay of the SSPX with a “doctrinal preamble” for his signature, on the condition of which the SSPX would be restored to full unity and canonical status. According to the CDF, the “doctrinal preamble” “enunciates some of the doctrinal principles and criteria of interpretation of Catholic doctrine necessary for ensuring fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church and to the sentire cum Ecclesia, while leaving open to legitimate discussion the study and theological explanation of particular expressions and formulations present in the texts of the Second Vatican Council and of the Magisterium that followed it.” The document goes on to say: “Given the concerns and requests presented by the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X regarding the integrity of the Catholic faith considering the hermeneutic of rupture of the Second Vatican Council in respect of Tradition—hermeneutic mentioned by Pope Benedict XVI in his Address to the Roman Curia of December 22, 2005—, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith takes as a fundamental basis for a full reconciliation with the Apostolic See the acceptance of the Doctrinal Preamble which was delivered in the course of the meeting of September 14, 2011” (ibid.) Bishop Fellay’s response was tentative, noting: “Today, for the sake of objectivity, I must acknowledge that in the doctrinal preamble there is no clear-cut distinction between the inviolable dogmatic sphere and the pastoral sphere that is subject to discussion.”
- September 24, 2011, ten days after the CDF delivers the “doctrinal preamble to Bishop Fellay, Monsignor Gherardini republishes his open letter to the Holy Father (translation) with eighty-three signatures from eminent scholars, including himself and Roberto De Mattei. The challenge to the Holy Father to prove the hermeneutic of continuity is renewed: “If it should happen that this continuity cannot be proved scientifically, as a whole or in part, it would be necessary to say so calmly and candidly, in response to the demand for clarity that has been awaited for almost a half a century.”
- October 11, 2011: Pope Benedict promulgates the apostolic letter, Porta Fidei, “the Door of Faith” in which he announces “A Year of Faith” to begin in exactly one year on October 11, 2012, the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and the twentieth anniversary of the publication of The Catechism of the Catholic Church. He makes the words of Blessed John Paul II his own: “I feel more than ever in duty bound to point to the Council as the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century,” and restates his December 22, 2005 contention concerning the Council: “if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church.”
- October 27, 2011: The Holy Father conducts a day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world in Assisi on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Blessed John Paul’s encounter with the representatives of the world’s religions. He does this in spite of the Society of St. Pius X’s contention that he would be “renewing the Assisi scandal,” saying that “to err is human, to persevere in error is diabolical.” The Holy Father uses the opportunity of his address to descry two types of violence that have plagued the modern world: religious violence and godless violence. The Church continues to defend religious liberty and the need to maintain freedom from coercion in spite of the scandal taken by traditionalists.
- November 30, 2011: Bishop Fellay of the SSPX revealed that he was offering a counter-proposal to the Vatican in regard to the preamble, which he made clear he could not sign as it was. He drew a sharp distinction between the Creed and the doctrinal preamble saying that the Council, which was pastoral, did not add any new articles of the faith, such as: “I believe in religious freedom, in ecumenism, in collegiality.” While he did not reveal what his proposal was, he suggested that the Vatican’s response would enable the society to evaluate their “remaining options.” However, “the heads of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, the Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Levada and Mgr. Guido Pozzo, are of the opinion that no substantial changes can be made to the document.
- January 6, 2012: The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith promulgates its “Note with pastoral recommendations for the Year of Faith.” There it reiterates Pope Benedict’s homogeneous teaching on the Council: “From the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI has worked decisively for a correct understanding of the Council, rejecting as erroneous the so-called ‘hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture’ and promoting what he himself has termed ‘the hermeneutic of reform, of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.’” It goes on to maintain that The Catechism of the Catholic Church “in this same vein, is both an ‘authentic fruit of Vatican Council II’ and a tool for aiding in its reception.
- January 2012: Bishop Fellay, representing the Society of St. Pius X, sends a letter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, informing the Holy the reason why the the “doctrinal preamble” remains unsigned and suggesting modifications to the document.
- March 16, 2012: The CDF issues a communiqué concerning the official response of the SSPX to the “doctrinal preamble,” informing the Society that their position “is not sufficient to overcome the doctrinal problems which lie at the foundation of the rift between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X,” and warning them of the “painful and incalculable consequences” of an “ecclesial rupture.” Bishop Fellay has been asked to “ clarify his position in order to be able to heal the existing rift, as is the desire of Pope Benedict XVI.” According to reports the Society has been given one month to respond.
A careful assessment of this timeline reveals two diametrically opposed movements: one from the Vicar of Christ, charged with the care of the flock of Christ; the other from the traditionalist intelligentsia, engaged in the business of educating the Holy Father. Two completely different narratives emerge: that of the Holy Father affirming that the Second Vatican Council is “the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century,” one in complete continuity with Tradition; and that of the partisans of doubt, who believe that the Council was a rupture with Tradition and will not accept otherwise unless the Vicar of Christ proves it. Two interpretations of the texts of the Council arise: that of the Holy Father, based on the distinction between the hermeneutic of continuity/reform and the hermeneutic of discontinuity/rupture; and that of the intellectual elitists who begin with a hermeneutic of suspicion and insist that the real basis for understanding the Council is the distinction between dogmatic and pastoral teaching. Pope Benedict appears now to have ended all doubt about his actual position, dispelling the noxious and etherial “spirit of Summorum Ponitificum.”
Clearly Pope Benedict is willing to discuss misinterpretations of the Council if the doctrinal principles are accepted, namely the hermeneutic of continuity, but he has absolutely resisted the contention that the real solution lies in distinguishing between infallible dogma and fallible pastoral teaching. In the December 22, 2005 conference he stated the following in reference to positions taken by the Council that are innovative:
It was necessary to learn to recognize that in these decisions it is only the principles that express the permanent aspect, since they remain as an undercurrent, motivating decisions from within.
On the other hand, not so permanent are the practical forms that depend on the historical situation and are therefore subject to change.
There is no indication from the timeline that he has any intention of conceding on this point. On the contrary, the CDF’s ultimatum to the SSPX makes clear that the “doctrinal preamble” and the “hermeneutic of continuity” are non-negotiable. And it is this disagreement over the fundamental distinctions that must be made in order to understand the Council correctly that forms the great divide between the Holy Father and the traditionalists.
The traditionalist response, has been alinskian: scholars using their credentials and a pretended academic forum to act like community organizers, sending open letters to the Holy Father, addressed in the second person to the Pope himself but published all over the internet; eagerly implementing the motu proprio and proclaiming the return of the old ways, ostensibly in obedience to the pope, all the while questioning his wisdom regarding the interpretation of the Council.
The Year of Faith seems to be both calculated and providential. It is calculated to be an effective response to the alinskian, change-agent tactics of the traditionalists. They want a definitive examination of the Council according to their minute specifications and the Holy Father hands them The Catechism of the Catholic Church. He asks the whole Church at every level, from the universal Church right down to the individual Catholic to go back to the texts of the Second Vatican Council and make them the object of study, prayer and reflection. And to make that easier and more effective, he tells all of us to do the same with The Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Will the enthusiasts among the traditionalists get the point? Not likely. But perhaps those who have been innocently seduced by the “evil council” theory will realize that there is something more nefarious than the restoration of Tradition involved with all this rabble rousing.
A Year of Doubt
As late as December 7, 2011, Monsignor Brunero Gherardini has taken up again his own drumbeat as he criticizes that of others:
The great 50th anniversary celebration has begun. There is no media drumbeat yet, but you notice it in the air. The 50th anniversary of Vatican II will uncork the most effervescent superlatives that can be devised in its eulogistic judgments. Not a shadow of the sober attitude that had been requested, as a moment of reflection and analysis for a more critically in-depth evaluation of the conciliar event. They have already started the free-wheeling statements and repetitions of what has been said and repeated for 50 years: Vatican II is the culminating point of Tradition and the very synthesis thereof.
But in reality the “they” who are allegedly making the “freewheeling” statements is not a “they” at all, but a “he”: Benedict XVI, who has called the Year of Faith for the very reasons Gherardini criticizes. In his book on the “needed discussion” concerning the Council, Gherardini refers to the “rhetorical talk of a premise of continuity,” as uncritical and unproven, a veritable “rhetorical Poltergeist,” that will suffer no attempt to hear otherwise (Much Needed Discussion, 296). One traditionalist has cogently noted:
If affirming that the texts of the Council are disconnected from Tradition makes the Society [of St. Pius X] worthy of being considered outside the Church, is it to be thought that Monsignor Gherardini deserves excommunication for having dared to publicly affirm that which others will never have the boldness of saying.
As sympathizers with the SSPX, Monsignor Gherardini (see this and this), and Roberto De Mattei (see this), direct the community organizing by cultivating various levels of awareness. This “scholarly” sympathy with the SSPX, proliferated journalistic style on the internet, has one effect on the faithful in the pews who discern mostly on the basis of human faith. They are glad to hear what appears to be plain speech in defense of the Roman Catholic faith. But the partisans of doubt do not speak directly to the faithful about the distrust in the pope, the Council and the Catechism that they are cultivating in the average orthodox Catholic. All of this is done on the pretext of doing the most pious, reverent, faithful and courageous thing. De Mattei is more careful about his open association with the SSPX than Gherardini, but facilitates the apologetic in their defense, appearing, for example, with open sympathizers of the SSPX such as Cristina Siccardi, author of several flattering biographical books about Archbishop Lefebvre. De Mattei, formed in the spirituality and operative philosophy of Tradition, Family and Property, knows the value of working in phases. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira is explicit about this in Revolution and Counter-Revolution. Hopefully, with the approaching Year of Faith, and with the papal “squeeze” put on the SSPX by Pope Benedict, the scales will fall from the eyes of those who have been innocently seduced.
But it is still likely that the counter-revolutionary intelligentsia will continue their drumbeat unabated. In fact, one defender of Monsignor Gherardini, a Franciscan Friar of the Immaculate, Father Serafino Lanzeta, editor of and contributor to the minutes of the December 2010 Roman conference on the Council, in December of last year asserted on his blog that the very Year of Faith itself, announced by the Holy Father to celebrate the Council’s anniversary, ought to be the occasion to keep up the political pressure:
With the anniversary of the solemn opening of the Vatican II, October 11, 2012, the Holy Father has called a Year of the faith, ideally linking it to the last session of the Council. Indeed, the now famous speech of Benedict XVI to the Roman Curia, December 22, 2005, marked a real breakthrough in the analysis of the Council. He started a new debate around the Council—a confrontation, no longer a one-way monopoly of a certain hermeneutic, but a dialogue of numerous voices, many of which are new and free of bitterness or any sort of resentment (translation mine).
Father Lanzetta, repeats the tired but now “dogmatic” assertion that the Holy Father invited all the theologians of the world to debate whether he is right about the hermeneutic of continuity (see “Traditionalist Sleight of Hand”). Of course, they would never question the wisdom of the Council if the Holy Father did not tell them that that is exactly what he wants them to do. Or would they? Father Lanzetta’s article is a defense of Gherardini’s anti-conciliarism, and it ends by suggesting that the Year of Faith would be a good opportunity to figure out what the Second Vatican Council was really trying to accomplish, as though the texts themselves, fifty years of papal teaching and The Catechism of the Catholic Church should not, for the most part, be enough for these devout of doubt.
The Modern Gnostic
Whatever the difficulties the partisans of doubt have with understanding how the Council’s doctrine on religious liberty and collegiality is consistent with Tradition, they seem to make pretty liberal use of both religious liberty and collegiality. The Holy Father did not assert the hermeneutic of continuity in order to invite them to question it. They simply consider themselves free to question an ecumenical council and fifty years of papal teaching in the face of and contrary to the clear principles laid out by the Successor of St. Peter. They seem to think themselves more Catholic than the pope.
But the Holy Father prefers persuasion to coercion, so who am I to judge? Only the partisans of doubt are not really in favor of individual religious freedom founded on the dignity of the human person. They are intellectual elitists who believe they can illumine the Holy Father and dictate to the rest of us what it means to be a good Catholic, whether or not that corresponds to papal teaching.
Pope Benedict has described second century Gnosticism as
a doctrine which affirmed that the faith taught in the Church was merely a symbolism for the simple who were unable to grasp difficult concepts; instead, the initiates, the intellectuals—Gnostics, they were called—claimed to understand what was behind these symbols and thus formed an elitist and intellectualist Christianity. Obviously, this intellectual Christianity became increasingly fragmented, splitting into different currents with ideas that were often bizarre and extravagant, yet attractive to many.
One may notice that the Holy Father does not pinpoint the essence of Gnosticism, as it is often done, as a dualistic concept of reality, or as an occultist search for hidden knowledge, but as a form of intellectual elitism in the matter of religious belief. Intellectuals have always had a place in the Church, and they have been great assets to it. But intellectuals, qua intellectuals, have never run the Church. To insist that they should would be to reject the supremacy of the divinely instituted magisterium of the apostles and of the pope in particular. Ironically, the traditionalists are effectively adopting the theory of Avery Dulles of the “dual magisterium,” so often invoked by modernists to challenge any “non-dogmatic” pronouncement of the Holy Father.
Pope Benedict is an intellectual, but that is not what makes him the Vicar of Christ. Ecumenical Councils make use of the theological acumen of periti (experts), but it is only the presence of the bishops and the confirmation of the pope that makes a council ecumenical. Among all the apostles, Peter would certainly not be characterized as the intellectual among them.
One is your Teacher, Christ (Mt 23:10). Ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia. (Where there is Peter there is the Church).
The real issues surrounding religious liberty and collegiality pertain to a fight between intellectual elitists of various sorts: between the engineers of a new world order, the modernists, and the wardens of the old world order, the traditionalists. We are confronted with the left-wing, pseudo-intellectual “dictatorship of relativism” on the one hand, and old-fashioned right-wing, dictatorial sectarianism on the other. There is nothing new under the sun. Gnosticism is alive and well.
Be careful what you ask for. Examine the politics of the traditionalist fast-talkers that are lawyering their way around the hermeneutic of continuity. You may want to think twice about taking advice from experts who advocate for a counter-revolutionary dictatorship. You may be getting a lot more than traditional dogma and liturgy.
But is it really that hard to avoid the snare of Gnosticism? Adherence to the Pope, the Council and the Catechism is a simple and sure solution. It happens to be the one offered to the universal Church by the Vicar of Christ himself. A Year of Faith is just what we need.