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!

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.

Postconciliar Crisis

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.

Time Bomb

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.

  1. 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).
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.
  6. 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.)
  7. 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.”
  8. 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.”
  9. 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.”
  10. 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.”
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.

15 thoughts on “A Year of Faith or a Year of Doubt?

  1. Ave Maria!

    Aside from loving the endearing picture of our Holy Father at the beginning of this post, I think that out of everything that has been written in this series, this paragraph really stands out for me and gives me great hope for the future –

    “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).

    I am looking forward with great anticipation to the Year of Faith!

    “It will be a moment of grace and commitment for an ever fuller conversion to God, to strengthen our faith in him and to proclaim him with joy to the people of our time.”


    I love you, Papa!

    In Christ,

  2. God reward you Father Angelo for these writings and the time you spend in educating the ignorant (yes, that’s me). Again, I say, I have been set free and will be eternally grateful. Ave Maria!

  3. I do not understand the attack on traditionalists’ adherence to Catholic confessional states (here termed dictatorships). How can they be bad if throughout the entire Middle Ages up until the 1960s the Church promoted and defended them? Even Pius XI in Quas Primas wrote in 1925 that to ensure freedom, the State must recognize Christ. Do more people save their souls in a Catholic state or in one that promotes all religions equally?

    Michael Voris’ commentary against modern democracies is even used to show (I am guessing) the craziness of traditionalists’ opinion. But what he says makes sense. Do we really want a democracy in which we can vote to kill the unborn, suppress the Faith, and have Obama as our president? I am not sure that even democracy-loving, devout Catholics would defend democracy that much. If I had to choose between a loving king coercing me to heaven or a laissez faire president allowing me to get to hell, I think I’d choose the former.

    It is interesting to note that monarchies are called dictatorships, but saying that we cannot question the pope on Council texts is not dictatorial?

    Lastly I am not sure that Msgr. Gherardini and the SSPX are as closely linked as suggested here. They may agree on many things, but Msgr. Gherardini has criticized the SSPX for many of their positions too. However it is interesting to see the growth of Traditionalism since the end of Vatican II. It has not yet exploded, but one wonders if the Pope, who promotes peace with endless dialogue and prayer with false religions as opposed Our Lady who promotes peace through Her Immaculate Heart (consecration of Russia, anyone?), is actually right? If his actions, and those of previous post-Conciliar Popes, indicate how V2 should be correctly interpreted, one continues to wonder how there is truly a hermeneutic of continuity. But who am I, a simple, non-“intellectual”, to say?

  4. Tuesday, April 3, 2012
    New magisterium could excommunicate SSPX for denying Vatican Council II when they say Jews need to convert and Catholics are the Chosen People of God.

    The pope was forced to say that Bishop Richard Williamson had to accept the six million Holocaust figure, even though initially the Vatican spokesman said the bishop was free to have an opinion. Probably this was the initial view of Pope Benedict.

    Then after worldwide political pressure he had to announce that the Good Friday Prayer for the Conversion of the Jews was not for their conversion. Then he said that Jews do not have to convert in the present time.

    Now he is being forced to excommunicate the Society of St.Pius X (SSPX).

    Years back he did away with the defined dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus. Neither did he correct the error of the Archbishop of Boston on invincible ignorance and the baptism of desire.

    Vatican Council II unlike the ADL- magisterium for the Catholic Church says Catholics are ‘the new people of God’(Nostra Aetate 4) and that Jews and other non Catholics need Catholic Faith and the baptism of water to avoid Hell(for salvation).(Ad Gentes 7).

    The ADL magisterium wants the SSPX excommunicated and the Vatican has issued a statement indicating just that.

    What an age we live in! The pope says that Jews do not have to convert in the present times, a Catholic bishop cannot say that 5,999,999 or less people died in the terrible holocaust and the SSPX can be excommunicated for saying Jews need to convert and that Catholics are the Chosen People of God, according to Vatican Council II.

    The new magisterium could excommunicate the SSPX for denying Vatican Council II when they say Jews need to convert for salvation and Catholics are the new people of God.

    The SSPX has to state in public that they accept a Vatican Council II which says Jews do not have to convert and that Jews are the Chosen People of God even though there is no text in Vatican Council II which makes this claim.

    Unless the SSPX accepts this Jewish Left version of Vatican Council II they are likely to be excommunicated by the magisterium this month, with the approval of the ADL and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.-Lionel Andrades

  5. Lionel,

    Don’t stray from the point of this post or inundate it with your information. I am considering deleting some of your comments. But I must have time to look at them more closely. Don’t add more unless you intend to address my post directly.

  6. Lionel,

    I have deleted all but the first of your comments. You made the essential point of all your comments there, and even that comment does not address the content of my post directly.

    In any case, no one is forcing the SSPX to accept the “Jewish Left’s” interpretation of Vatican II. The SSPX is being asked to accept Vatican II. Period. The doctrinal preamble is relatively simple. It is an expression of first principles and a simple acceptance of the hermeneutic of continuity. This precisely what they have not accepted up until now.

    • Which of the two interpretations of Vatican Council II is accptable here ? You would agree that there are two ?

      Interpretation 1: Vatican Council II says non Catholics do not have to convert in general for salvation. (LG 16).

      Interpretation II: Vatican Council II says non Catholics need to convert in general for salvation (Ad Gentes 7, LG 14).

      Interpretation II is the traditional teaching which the SSPX also endorses.

      So the SSPX accepts Vatican Council II?

      If the SSPX accepts Interpretation 2 then clarify it in public.

      Interpretation 1. Vatican Council II says those saved in invincible ignorance, a good conscience, the seeds of the word are EXPLICIT EXCEPTIONS to the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus and to Ad Gentes 7 i.e all need Catholic Faith and the baptism of water for salvation.

      Interpretation 2: Vatican Council II says those saved in invincible ignorance etc are possibilities known to only God. There are no explicit exceptions to Ad Gentes 7 and the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus.

      Call a Press Conference and clarify this issue or hold a conference and discuss the issue in public.

      The doctrinal talks were held in secret. This is all just like a secret society, the Freemasons.

      Cardinal Donald Wuerl and the US bishops give the Eucharist to pro abortion politicians, homosexuals and lesbians. Cardinal Wuerl was made a cardinal. The SSPX rejects Cardinal Sean O Malley and the ADL‘s interpretation of Vatican Council II and they are threatened in public with a second excommunication.

      It’s time for cardinal, bishops and religious communities to openly say that they accept Vatican Council II and reject the Jewish Left interpretation of the Council: they affirm the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus in accord with Vatican Council II (AG 7,LG 14)

      Affirm Lumen Gentium 16 (invincible ignorance) as a possibility known only to God so it is not in conflict with the dogma or the literal interpretation of outside the church no salvation.

      Since LG 16 is not explicitly known Vatican Council II affirms the literal interpretation of the defined dogma.

      This is also the interpretation of all the Catechisms, including the present one, Vatican Council I and II, the Letter of the Holy Office 1949 ( it refers to ‘the dogma’) other magisterial documents and Fr. Leonard Feeney of Boston who was not excommunicated for heresy.He was not excommunicated for saying the same thing as Vatican Council II and the dogma.

      It is time to give a testimony of the Faith in public and affirm Vatican Council II, we accept Tradition ,we reject the Jewish Left version of the our Catholic Faith. Lionel Andrades

  7. Trent @ April 2, 2012 at 5:47 pm,

    I am not attacking “Catholic confessional states,” and I am not the one that has called them “dictatorships.” It is Michael Voris that has confused a Catholic kingdom with a “benevolent dictatorship” and Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira that has used the term “counter-revolutionary dictatorship.”

    You make no distinction between the Catholic kingdoms of the Middle Ages that were neither ideological nor absolute, and the modern absolutist monarchies that idealized the classical period. This is an important distinction and one that defines what I really object to, which is certainly not a Catholic confessional state where it is blessed by Holy Mother Church.

    Regine Pernoud points out that the medieval kingdom was not an imposition from above or one sanctioned by a centralized authority, but one that arose out of real relationships between people. It was neither absolute nor ideological. This was not the case in the modern period. The issue of the relationship of the Church and state has always been problematic. The essential point is that the Church is always defended her liberty and the rights of God in the social order, including confessional rights, but it has never denied that principles can be applied in different ways according to the circumstances of the times. This is an essential point made by Pope Benedict in his December 22, 2005 address.

    You say:

    If I had to choose between a loving king coercing me to heaven or a laissez faire president allowing me to get to hell, I think I’d choose the former.

    But you don’t have that choice. No one does. What Catholic monarchy are you talking about? And how are you going to install it in the United States? And how will you impose it on the vast majority of Americans who do not want it? This is why Voris made the slip of the tongue and called his “Catholic monarchy” a “benevolent dictatorship,” and why De Oliviera more openly and honestly refers to a “Counter-revolutionary dictatorship.” The only way to produce a “Catholic confessional state” at the present juncture is at the point of a gun and you will not receive the blessing of the Holy Father for such a venture. The Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar popes have not compromised on the point of the Catholic social order, but neither are they naïve or simplistic.

    You say:

    It is interesting to note that monarchies are called dictatorships, but saying that we cannot question the pope on Council texts is not dictatorial?

    Again, those are not my words but the words of those who confuse the Catholic social order with the right of elitists to impose their contingent views on everyone else. Neither have I exercised any manner of “dictatorship” on anyone. This is a blog, not the “World Central Catholic Authority.” I have not even claimed that Pope Benedict would condemn the current debate, only that he did not invite it. More to the point, I reserve the right to dissent from declarations of traditionalists that presume their pontifications to be more than their private opinions. I will resist the secularist super-state, the modernist “dictatorship of relativism,” and the intellectual elitists of the traditionalist sort.

    If someone has a problem with the Second Vatican Council or with Pope Benedict then that is his problem. Don’t make it my problem. Talk of dictatorships is a big red flag factory. I am not the one who brought it up or tried to defend such an idea.

  8. Lionel @ April 3, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    I recommend that anyone interested in Lionel’s objections actually read Lumen Gentium 14 and 16 along with Ad Gentes 7, and do so in context. There is no contradiction.

    The representatives of the SSPX know these texts very well. There is no question that they do not accept the Council or its continuity with Tradition, and this on multiple levels, not simply in respect to the interpretation of the dogma of extra ecclessiam nulla salus.

  9. Therefore, all must be converted to Him, made known by the Church’s preaching, and all must be incorporated into Him by baptism and into the Church which is His body. For Christ Himself “by stressing in express language the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mark 16:16; John 3:5), at the same time confirmed the necessity of the Church, into which men enter by baptism, as by a door.-Ad Gentes 7

    This Sacred Council wishes to turn its attention firstly to the Catholic faithful. Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism(124) and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church.-Lumen Gentium 14
    Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.-Lumen Gentium 16

    Does anyone think that LG 16 contradicts AG 7 ?

  10. Ave Maria!

    No contradiction. The CCC states –


    1257 The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation.60 He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them.61 Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.62 The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are “reborn of water and the Spirit.” God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.

    1258 The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament.

    1259 For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament.

    1260 “Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.”63 Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.

    1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,”64 allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.

    In Christ,

  11. Pingback: The Bridge That Was Burned | Mary Victrix

  12. ‘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.”’

    It isn’t fair to say that asking for particular clarity is subordinating the magisterium of the Pope to experts, because what he is asking for (if my interpretation is not incorrect) is precisely a magisterial clarification. Popes have always relied upon experts to carefully research a problem before giving authoritative answers and there are certain questions that can only be answered after sufficient study. There is not an authoritative interpretation of Vatican II that takes into account the documents and their sources and the history behind the council, and this seems to me to be a great source of confusion. The council either is presented as a finished text which is quoted in different ways and for different purposes as an authority unto itself, or as an event that is used to explain why practices permissible in the past are no longer permissible. I hope to eventually have more clarity. I’ll give submission of mind and heart to the proposition that it is in continuity if the Pope asks me to. That accomplished little unless I know what the continuity consists in.

    To give a few examples that will be very familiar to you:
    (1) Relationship of Conciliar Documents to Preconciliar Documents from the Century Preceding: what is the relationship between Unitatis Redintegratio and Mortalium Animos? What is the relationship between Dignitatis Humanae and documents such as Quas Primas? What is the relationship between D.G. (especially 8) and Satis Cognitum? What is the relationship between D.G. 14-16 and Quanto Conficiamur Moerore 8 & 9 (among others)? Moreover, how are the doctrines within them squared away? Do those outside the Catholic Church lack communion with the Church unless, “by an unconscious desire and longing they have a certain relationship with the Mystical Body of the Redeemer” (Mystici Corporis, 103), or do they have imperfect communion by virtue of their baptism and other shared elementa ecclesiae, or both? And if both, how do the two work together? Right now, I’m more or less free to follow my own authorities and way of thinking regarding how the continuity between the Vatican II and the pre-Vatican II magisterium works. Certainly there are post-Magisterial documents that help, but they do not solve the problem. As far as I know, there is no authoritative solution.

    (2) Obvious Matters of Discontinuity in Practice Related to Doctrine: There is obvious discontinuity regarding the practice of communicatio in sacris, which UR says is generally militated against by the principal of the unity of the Church. A dubium from earlier in the 20th century asked whether it a priest could give extreme unction to someone not in union with the Church in danger of death, and the answer was no, not unless he first renounce his errors and seek reconciliation with the Church. But UR offers the possibility of sacramental sharing. Being told “this is in continuity with the earlier tradition” begs the question of in what the continuity consists. As near as I can tell–and I’ve read many documents–there is not an authoritative examination of this question from the magisterium. In what does the continuity of practice consist? It is a reform of the same subject-Church, and yet the reform at times appears to touch upon doctrine (and at least upon the authority of tradition in relation to the magisterium), and these questions have not been answered to my knowledge.

    (3) Ambiguities in the Relationship between New Doctrinal Formulations and Previous Teachings: This was covered a bit in (1), but it’s so important that I want to give it’s own number. Dignitatis Humanae states that it is a development of the teachings of recent Popes regarding human dignity and leaves traditional teaching regarding the duty of individuals and societies to submit to Christ intact. But the document does not answer many questions about the relationship between the development regarding the dignity of man and the previous condemnations of liberty of conscience and social religious indifferentism. Stating that they are in continuity leaves me asking: in what does this continuity consist? This has a very practical bearing, because we as lay Catholics help to build the society that we want. Is the ideal that we have a society where the government acknowledges Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church and promotes laws that favor truth for the sake of the salvation of souls, while tolerating false religions our of respect for the dignity of human freedom, or is the ideal that, while acknowledging Christ, society defends all religions equally and limits religious freedom only on the basis of the common good, without taking into consideration the law of the Church and the Salvation of souls? In other words, how do we reconcile the previous teachings about the duty of societies to submit to Christ with the new teachings about the dignity and freedom of the human person? The document itself doesn’t tell me. I have read dozens of articles trying to explain the relation,but all of them engage in speculation that goes beyond the teaching of the magisterium. But the question of the relation between the two doctrines is intimately connected with continuity.

    (4) Ambiguity Regarding the Meanings of Words: Then too there is the question of the definition of terms. New terms, such as “living tradition” (cf. DV 8) have been inserted within the council without precise definitions. Sometimes it is the very ambiguity of not having a precise definition that leads to error. Example: The Congregration for the Doctrine of Faith has been fighting a battle since soon after the council with those that interpret the “subsistit in” as changing the identification of the Church of Jesus Christ with the Roman Catholic Church. The official clarification is that “subsistit in” reference to the subsistence of the Church which is contrasted with the “elementa Ecclesiae” that can exist outside the Church. There are those who argue that this Ratzingerian explanation is a post-conciliar reading-into the Council, but at least it gives a definition of the word that does not weaken the identification of Christ’s Church with the Catholic Church.

    (5) The Relationship of the Church as She Appears after V2 to the Church as She Appears before V2. The essence of this question is what effects of Vatican II I am being asked to consider as “in continuity” with tradition. The revision of the Mass in 1969 was an effect of V2, but it does more than V2 asked (e.g. the introduction of new eucharistic prayers, the reform of the calendar, the changing of every collect in the year, etc), and less than V2 asked for (e.g. it changed things that the good of the Church did not “genuinely and certainly require”, introduced things (such as some of the Eucharistic prayers and many of the preces in the Liturgy of the Hours) that do not seem to have grown organically from what was there before, etc). Am I required to believe that the reform of the liturgy, as it was carried out, is not a rupture with the Church? You yourself seem to have expressed the opinion at times that there were ruptures in it in need of healing, and that this is why the reform of the reform was necessary. Can I say that practices not mandated by the council but tolerated by the magisterium are ruptures that we should work against in a pastoral way, e.g. uninstituted extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, vertus populum posture, the abandoning of Latin and Gregorian Chant, communion in the hands, etc? In essence, what are the limits of the critiques I can make about the effects of Vatican II without falling into inexcusable criticism of Vatican II? To ask a question that Pope Benedict addressed right before his resignation, what is the true council? Perhaps it is emerging over time, but it is still very difficult to see the true council, and the council is very often used as a battering ram to silence people. There are, no doubt, people who have used it as a battering ram against your liturgical preferences. Catholicism is not merely a religion of texts, but a religion of custom, and it is not clear what the customs are that the Second Vatican Council endorsed.

    The point is that I can’t just accept as a doctrine that the Second Vatican Council is in continuity without asking what this continuity consists in. It seems true that it is “very difficult to make this hermeneutic of continuity…evident, without first proceeding to make a careful, scientific analysis of the Council in general, of each of its documents, of each of the themes in these documents, of the immediate and remote sources of these themes and these documents” and that “an examination of such scope far surpasses the abilities of one person, not only because one and the same subject requires elaborations at different levels (historical, patristic, canonical, philosophical, liturgical, theological, exegetical, sociological, scientific), but also because each conciliar document touches on dozens and dozens of subjects that only specialists in each of those subjects is capable of addressing effectively.”

    • Joseph Anthony,

      Actually, you can accept the continuity of the Council with Tradition because this is precisely what Pope Benedict, as well as all of his predecessors, including two saints and one soon to be blessed, have taught. You should be seeking continuity with help of men like Valuet, Marcheto and Pink. Pope Benedict, likewise, gives the succinct answer to your problem with DH in his hermeneutic of continuity address. Pursue that line of thought and you might have your answer.

      But even if you don’t there is a right and wrong way to go about dealing with that kind of problem. I suggest you follow the advice that Archbishop di Noia gave the SSPX, if you are not already.

      Thus, I do not have a problem with theologians doing their work even if if means expressing doubts about non-infallible teaching is it is done in the right context. But Mons. Gherardini’s appeal was not merely a letter to the Holy Father it was an open appeal managed in the style of de Mattei, one of the signers, designed to put public pressure on the Holy Father, which also has the effect of sowing the seeds of doubt in the minds of the faithful. Excuse me, if I have no confidence that such a systematic and scientific analysis would be satisfactory to Gherardini and company unless it arrived at the conclusions they expected it to, or that it would be conducted in a non political manner. The last nine months have taught me a lot.

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