The Postconciliar Moment

I wrote the following article shortly after the beginning of the new year.  At the time I was not sure what I wanted to do with it, but now, in the light of the negative responses to the Holy Father’s abdication, I think it is time for me to put it out.

Rather than revise it in the light of the recent events,  I am just going to leave it the way it is. It is long, but it provides significant research into crypto-traditionalism and why it is a pernicious problem that needs to be called out.

NB:  The links to the endnotes are not functioning at the moment.  I will try to fix them.

The Postconciliar Moment

The Year of Faith provides a backdrop for recent developments regarding the hoped for regularization of the Society of St Pius X (SSPX) and the ongoing controversy concerning the Second Vatican Council.  Not only have questions been raised about the doctrinal value of the Council itself, but also of what position Pope Benedict has taken on the matter of the Council’s continuity with Tradition.  I contend that those who denigrate the Council because they find major parts of it to be in rupture with Tradition do so along ideological linesand are therefore compelled either to publicly disagree with the Holy Father or to cherry-pick from his teaching.

Year of Faith

This Year of Faith, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the inauguration of the Second Vatican Council and the twentieth of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, might be characterized as the postconciliar moment.  We are beneficiaries of both the patrimony of the conciliar texts and a very problematic postconciliar implementation of them.  We have witnessed extremes of all kinds, but mostly those of the progressive wing.  All the while, the postconciliar popes have been patiently and consistently working to restore the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council to both Tradition and legitimate progress.  In a particular way, Pope Benedict has made it his task to bring about a reconciliation with our past, without, however, backing away from the legitimate aspirations of the Council indicated in its actual texts.[1]

I believe the Year of Faith may be the postconciliar moment for two reasons:  First, we are witnessing a very definite shift from progressivism to traditionalism.  This has been occurring for some time, but is now plainly evident.  Progressivism is slowly growing out of fashion and the trend, at least in some circles, is moving definitely toward traditionalism. Continue reading

On the Pastoral Authority of Peter

Take away the sovereign Pontiff and the Catholic Church would no longer be catholic. Moreover, without the supreme, effective, and authoritative pastoral office of Peter the unity of Christ’s Church would collapse. It would be vain to look for other principles of unity in place of the true one established by Christ Himself. As St. Jerome rightly observed: “There would be as many schisms in the Church as there are priests” (emphasis mine).

We would add that this cardinal principle of holy Church is not a supremacy of spiritual pride and a desire to dominate mankind, but a primacy of service, ministration, and love. It is no vapid rhetoric which confers on Christ’s vicar the title: “Servant of the servants of God.”

This passage from the first encyclical of Paul VI, Ecclesiam Suam (1964, 110) focuses its attention on the pastoral authority of the pope.  It is no less apropos today as it was during the Second Vatican Council.  There are countless schisms in the Church today across the whole spectrum of belief, so that while liberal and conservative are unfortunate and inadequate appelatives in reference to Catholic belief, we nevertheless find it necessary to distinguish between the dissenters of both extremes.  Often the argument is given, regardless where the dissenter lies along the spectrum, that this or that particular teaching of the Church is not “infallible.”  It is the same argument, whether it has to do with Humanae Vitae or Dignitatis Humanae.

In the 1990 instruction of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Donum Veritatis, “On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, the magisterium gives the lie to the pretexts used to legitimize private opinions that find themselves at odds with Church teaching

Dissent sometimes also appeals to a kind of sociological argumentation which holds that the opinion of a large number of Christians would be a direct and adequate expression of the “supernatural sense of the faith”.

Actually, the opinions of the faithful cannot be purely and simply identified with the “sensus fidei”. The sense of the faith is a property of theological faith; and, as God’s gift which enables one to adhere personally to the Truth, it cannot err. This personal faith is also the faith of the Church since God has given guardianship of the Word to the Church. Consequently, what the believer believes is what the Church believes. The “sensus fidei” implies then by its nature a profound agreement of spirit and heart with the Church, “sentire cum Ecclesia” (emphasis mine).

Although theological faith as such then cannot err, the believer can still have erroneous opinions since all his thoughts do not spring from faith.Not all the ideas which circulate among the People of God are compatible with the faith. This is all the more so given that people can be swayed by a public opinion influenced by modern communications media. Not without reason did the Second Vatican Council emphasize the indissoluble bond between the “sensus fidei” and the guidance of God’s People by the magisterium of the Pastors. These two realities cannot be separated. Magisterial interventions serve to guarantee the Church’s unity in the truth of the Lord. They aid her to “abide in the truth” in face of the arbitrary character of changeable opinions and are an expression of obedience to the Word of God. Even when it might seem that they limit the freedom of theologians, these actions, by their fidelity to the faith which has been handed on, establish a deeper freedom which can only come from unity in truth.

The CDF makes a cardinal point when it says:  The “sensus fidei” implies by its nature a profound agreement of spirit and heart with the Church, “sentire cum Ecclesia.”  To think with the Church means to have “a profound agreement of spirit and heart with the Church.”  This is the true sense of the faithful, and the reason why devout Catholics can apply the “smell test” to what they are hearing from the private pontifications of theologians, catechists and preachers and know when it does not square with Church doctrine, even if they are not always able to explain clearly why.

But as I say, this “smell test” applies across the whole spectrum of Catholic persuasion. The doctrinal preamble presented to the SSPX speaks also about this “profound agreement of spirit and heart with the Church”:

This 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.

Of course, the preamble is directed toward the acceptance not of dogma, which the SSPX has no issue with, but toward the acceptance of pastoral teaching. It distinguishes between “the supreme, effective, and authoritative pastoral office of Peter,” and the “legitimate discussion and theological explanation” of particular texts of the Council.  Notice that the preamble does not even suggest that these particular passages, worthy of discussion, are ambiguous or otherwise unclear.  They may or may not be. That is not the point.  Simply put, the Supreme Pastor must be followed and he is willing to do what he can to facilitate assent, especially when he knows that the sheep are having a hard time following.  But such pastoral condescension does not imply a surrender to the sheep.  Rather, it is the humility and service of the “Servant of the servants of God,” and an exhortation to embrace the sentire cum Ecclesia.

The Checkmate of Pope Benedict

No more moves for the SSPX.

Pope Benedict has effectively brought the dialogue between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X to a magisterial conclusion.  Bishop Fellay has certainly transformed his way of looking at things.  In responding to the grave concerns of three SSPX bishops, Mons. Fellay is now selling Pope Benedict’s hermeneutic of continuity.  Or is he?

Within the Society, some are making the conciliar errors into super heresies, absolute evil, worse than anything, in the same way that the liberals have dogmatized this pastoral council. The evils are sufficiently dramatic; there is hardly any reason to exaggerate them further (cf. Roberto de Mattei, Une histoire jamais écrite, p. 22; Mgr. Gherardini, Un débat à ouvrir, p. 53, etc.).

Fellay’s problem is that Pope Benedict has left him nowhere to go other than into the arms of the successor of St. Peter.  It is either that or what Fellay terms as “real schism.”  His view contains a healthy dose of realism.  But the three bishops and the members of the SSPX they represent pose a real problem for Bishop Fellay.  In the above quote Fellay makes reference to the work of de Mattei and Gherardini, neither of whom are convinced that the Council can be reconciled with Tradition.  Indeed, in the preface to his new book Gherardini states:

There remains truly the fact that neither Vatican II can be recognized fully and peacefully in it [Tradition], nor can it be harmonized with the tune of Vatican II. They are two scores that cannot be reciprocally harmonized with the “dominant”, not due to any accidental note, but because one is intrinsically different from the other; and at times even opposed.

There are those who are in the Church that appear to be going out, and then those very much like them who are out and appear to be coming in. This is very uncomfortable fence sitting.  And it is not getting less complicated.  Last month, Monsignor Guido Pozzo, Secretary of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, sent a letter to the Institute of the Good Shepherd in France  regarding the results of their canonical visitation.  There he wrote that concerning seminary formation:

Rather than maintaining a critique of Vatican Council II, even a “serious and constructive” one, the efforts of your teachers must point out the transmission of the integrity of the patrimony of the Church, insisting on the hermeneutics of renewal in its continuity and using as support the integrity of Catholic doctrine expounded by the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

One wonders what Fellay and Gherardini would think of this.  Fellay is put in a very uncomfortable position by the three bishops because by accepting the Pope’s terms he will no longer be in a position to dismiss Vatican II, as he even now so casually does:

It has reached a good number (still a minority) of young priests, seminarians, and even includes a small number of young bishops who clearly stand out from their predecessors, who confide in us their sympathy and support, but who are still pretty well stifled by the dominant line in the hierarchy in favor of Vatican II. This hierarchy is losing speed.

He can’t really believe this is consistent with spirit with which Pope Benedict has called the Year of Faith.  Can he?  But he is forced to politicize his position in the interests of winning over the reluctant.

Pope Benedict has a big carrot and a big stick: a personal prelature and the doctrinal preamble.  Checkmate.

SSPX Reality Check

SSPX General House Communiqué


The media are announcing that Bishop Bernard Fellay has sent a “positive response” to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and that consequently the doctrinal question between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X is now resolved.

The reality is different.

In a letter dated April 17, 2012, the Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X responded to the request for clarification that had been made to him on March 16 by Cardinal William Levada concerning the Doctrinal Preamble delivered on September 14, 2011. As the press release dated today from the Ecclesia Dei Commission indicates, the text of this response “will be examined by the dicastery (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) then submitted to the Holy Father for his judgment”.

This is therefore a stage and not a conclusion.

Menzingen, April 18, 2012.

I thought the reality was more like this, stick in the mud that I am.

A Year of Faith or a Year of Doubt?

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!

Continue reading

SSPX on the Brink

No joy for the SSPX.  They did not sign and the Holy Father has not backed down.  It seems, as I have said, that the Holy Father does not favor the position of Gherardini and De Mattei.

The doctrinal preamble is non-negotiable.  The existence of a hermeneutic of continuity, as such, is not a matter for debate.

Here is a section from the Final Report for the Synod of Bishops of 1985. It seems to be one of the first, if not the first reference to conciliar continuity, and may have been influenced by Joseph Ratzinger.  It is highly unlikely, to my mind, that is was not:

The theological interpretation of the conciliar doctrine must show attention to all the documents, in themselves and in their close inter-relationship, in such a way that the integral meaning of the Council’s affirmations–often very complex–might be understood and expressed. Special attention must be paid to the four major Constitutions of the Council, which contain the interpretative key for the other Decrees and Declarations. It is not licit to separate the pastoral character from the doctrinal vigor of the documents. In the same way, it is not legitimate to separate the spirit and the letter of the Council. Moreover, the Council must be understood in continuity with the great tradition of the Church, and at the same time we must receive light from the Council’s own doctrine for today’s Church and the men of our time. The Church is one and the same throughout all the councils.

Basically, the doctrinal preamble states that “[i]t is not licit to separate the pastoral character from the doctrinal vigor of the documents. In the same way, it is not legitimate to separate the spirit and the letter of the Council.”  This has been the essential point all along and Joseph Ratzinger, now the Vicar of Christ, will not budge.

I know many have a problem with this statement, but at some point those who love the Church will have to concede to Peter.  This brings to mind the response of Cardinal Ottaviani to the new Mass and his eventual acceptance of the liturgical changes. [see comment below  The following quote was made by Cardinal Ottaviani before the intervention.  The comment linked to shows other evidence of his acceptance of the liturgical changes, though this one indicates his disposition of obedience]:

The words of Christ “feed my sheep” are words which have been addressed only to His Vicar, and it follows that whoever would wish to be counted among the Flock of Christ must submit to the Universal Pastor appointed by Christ.  No one can be an exception to this rule, not even bishops.

There is no way around this point except to fall into sectarianism.

I find this report concerning Bishop Fellay’s reaction to the decision of the CDF interesting:

During this morning’s meeting, however, he appeared more conciliatory, and in a private conversation that took place in the palace of the former Holy Office, he said he had “no difficulty in accepting the profession of faith,” and also claimed to have no difficulties with the principles expressed in the preamble: the problem, Fellay said, was not the principles, but their application – namely, the fact that the Church today lacks fidelity to the Magisterium.

But this not what he was saying six weeks ago, when it was clear that he would not sign and he was giving his reasons why:

And I may say, what is presented today, which is already different from what was presented on the 14th of September, we can consider it as all right, good. They fulfilled all our requirements, I may say, on the practical level. So there is not much problem there. The problem remains at the other level – at the level of the doctrine. But even there it goes very far – very far, my dear brethren. The key is a principle. Which they say, “this you must accept; you must accept that for the points that make difficulty in the Council – points which are ambiguous, where there is a fight – these points, like ecumenism, like religious liberty, these points must be understood in coherence with the perpetual teaching of the Church.” “So if there is something ambiguous in the Council, you must understand it as the Church has always taught throughout the ages.”

This is problematic to say the least.  Heads up and pray for Bishop Fellay and the members of the SSPX.  This is their last chance.

Sad Goddess


Sorry folks. No fiddling with the formula for Baptism. Still the old patriarchical “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” What will the poor feminists do? No more “Mother, Redeemer and Sanctifier.”

“Variations to the baptismal formula — using non-biblical designations of the Divine Persons — as considered in this reply, arise from so-called feminist theology,” being an attempt “to avoid using the words Father and Son which are held to be chauvinistic, substituting them with other names,” the note clarified. “Such variants, however, undermine faith in the Trinity.”

Not that the feminists will listen to the nasty patriarchy anyway. What a horrible thing for a father to be a father. What a horrible thing for the Holy Father to make sure that people are validly baptized, that they actually receive sanctifying grace and become members of the Church, and not go through life thinking they had received God’s grace when they really hadn’t.

Let the pagans have their earth worship and leave us Catholics alone.