The Bridge That Was Burned

Recent developments shed light on Bishop Fellay’s inflammatory statements of December 28.  The bridge he burned had been carefully reinforced some weeks earlier by Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, Vice-President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. The Holy Father has entrusted to the Archbishop the task of dialoguing with the Society of St. Pius X in the hopes of restoring its unity with the Church.

The letter was sent in French during Advent to Bishop Fellay and the priests of the Society.  In the last few days, it was posted on the internet in both French and English.  Whether the English is the original of Archbishop Di Noia is not clear, but the version used here is apparently the same quoted in the Catholic News Service article recently published.

I would just like to highlight two points that he makes and leave you to read and reflect on the rest.  Archbishop Di Noia suggests charity and discretion as the way forward.

In the matter of charity, he is clear that it ought to be a two way street.  His letter contains a beautiful reflection based on the interpretation of St. Thomas Aquinas of the verse from Ephesians in which the “call” of God is to live in humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love (4:2).  The Archbishop writes:

How might the virtues of humility, mildness, patience, and charity shape our thoughts and actions? First, by humbly striving to recognize the goodness that exists in others with whom we may disagree, even on seemingly fundamental issues, we are able to approach contested issues in a spirit of openness and good faith. Secondly, by practicing true mildness we may maintain a spirit of serenity, avoiding the introduction of a divisive tone or imprudent statements that will offend rather than promote peace and mutual understanding. Thirdly, by true patience we will recognize that in our striving after the arduous good we seek, we must be willing, when necessary, to accept suffering while waiting. Finally, even when we still feel the need to correct our brothers it must be with charity, in the proper time and place.

We internet curmudgeons and most anyone who is engaged in Catholic polemics  can learn much from this pastor of souls, myself, of course, included.  The Archbishop’s entire treatment of this matter is worth meditating upon.

The second point involves the discretion that ought to be used by anyone who in good faith has an intellectual problem with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.  This is a magnificent treatment of the problem and one that is worth quoting at length:

Even if we are convinced that our perspective on a particular disputed question is the true one, we cannot usurp the office of the universal pontiff by presuming publicly to correct others within the Church. We may propose and seek to exert influence, but we must not disrespect or act against legitimate local authorities. We need to respect the proper fora of different types of issues: it is the faith that should be preached from our pulpits, not the latest interpretation of what we take to be problematic about a magisterial document.

It has been a mistake to make every difficult point in the theological interpretation of Vatican II a matter of public controversy, trying to sway those who are not theologically sophisticated into adopting one’s own point of view regarding subtle theological matters.

The Instruction Donum Veritatis on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith 1990) states that a theologian “may raise questions regarding the timeliness, the form, or even the contents of magisterial interventions” (§24), although “the willingness to submit loyally to the teaching of the Magisterium on matters per se not irreformable must be the rule.” But a theologian should “not present his own opinions or divergent hypotheses as though they were non-arguable conclusions. Respect for the truth as well as for the People of God requires this discretion (cf. Rom 14:1-15; 1 Cor 8; 10: 23-33). For the same reasons, the theologian will refrain from giving untimely public expression to them” (§27).

If, after intense reflection on the part of a theologian, difficulties persist, he “has the duty to make known to the Magisterial authorities the problems raised by the teaching in itself, in the arguments proposed to justify it, or even in the manner in which it is presented. He should do this in an evangelical spirit and with a profound desire to resolve the difficulties. His objections could then contribute to real progress and provide a stimulus to the Magisterium to propose the teaching of the Church in greater depth and with a clearer presentation of the arguments. In cases like these, the theologian should avoid turning to the ‘mass media’, but have recourse to the responsible authority, for it is not by seeking to exert the pressure of public opinion that one contributes to the clarification of doctrinal issues and renders service to the truth” (§30).

This part of the task of a theologian, acting with a loyal spirit, animated by love for the Church, can at times be a difficult trial. “It can be a call to suffer for the truth, in silence and prayer, but with the certainty, that if the truth really is at stake, it will ultimately prevail” (§31).

Nevertheless, critical engagement with the acts of the Magisterium must never become a sort of “parallel magisterium” of theologians (cf. §34), for it must be submitted to the judgment of the Supreme Pontiff, who has “the duty to safeguard the unity of the Church with concern to offer help to all in order to respond appropriately to this vocation and divine grace” (Apostolic Letter, Ecclesiae Unitatem, §1).

Thus we can see that for those within the Church who have the canonical mandate or mission to teach, there is room for a truly theological and non-polemical engagement with the Magisterium. Intellectually speaking, however, we cannot be satisfied merely with generating and sustaining controversy. Difficult theological problems can only be adequately dealt with through the analogy of faith, that is, the synthesis of all that the Lord has revealed to us. We must see each doctrine and article of faith as supporting the others, and learn to understand the inner connections between each element of our faith.

All of this gives greater significance to the December 28 conference of Bishop Fellay.  It seems that the leader of the SSPX decided to respond by doubling down.  The inflammatory remarks and his airing of the dirty laundry at the Vatican is all the more remarkable.  He even spoke rather glibly of the possibility of being excommunicated again.  It did not seem to concern him too much.

The traditionalist responses to Archbishop Di Noia’s letter (see comments) characterize his exhortation as arrogant, hypocritical and conniving.  In all this, Archbishop Di Noia seems to be the last man who is guilty of arrogance and hypocrisy and connivance.

Archbishop Di Noia’s letter can also be well-applied to the crypto-traditionalists, who claim to accept the “hermeneutic of continuity,” but still assert in their propaganda pieces that no such continuity has yet been demonstrated.  The pseudo-scholarship used to disguise this ideological activism ought to cease in the light of this letter.  There clearly is no longer any foundation (not that their ever was) that the Holy See is interested in having a dialogue about the orthodoxy of the Council hashed out in the media by activists and their organizations.

As I have written before, when the Holy Father proposed the hermeneutic of continuity, he was not asking a question, but providing an answer.  Whatever sincere problem a “theologian” may have with understanding how conciliar and postconciliar teaching is in continuity with Tradition, the creation of a propaganda war, and the very public questioning of the wisdom of the Vicar of Christ and an Ecumenical Council approved by him is always out of place.

Let us continue to pray for the unity of the Church in the sense intended by the magisterium, described so eloquently by Archbishop Di Noia:

The only imaginable future for the Priestly Fraternity lies along the path of full communion with the Holy See, with the acceptance of an unqualified profession of the faith in its fullness, and thus with a properly ordered ecclesial, sacramental and pastoral life.

8 thoughts on “The Bridge That Was Burned

  1. Pertinent to reconcilliation with the SSPX, Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary, WILL have Her way with a reconcilliation as the final outcome, no matter how many discussions, disagreements, and dialogues are had, and no matter how long it takes. This division is rooted in pride, not doctrine. She, the Immaculate, will crush the head of pride in this battle. To beat this topic like beating a dead horse is fruitless and vain because all the talk and discussion can’t change the final outcome. There’s going to be a reconciliation! Probably sooner than anyone thinks. It is heaven’s plan no matter who agrees to disagree. You can no more estrange an ill family member and pretend that they do not exist than you can say the sun doesn’t exist in the night. That family member will always be there, no matter how much one wishes it were not the reality. So it is with the SSPX. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, Our Lady loves them dearly. They are near and dear to Her Heart because they have had a FAITHFUL desire to remain loyal to the 2000 year history of the Church. That’s more than some of us Post Vatican II Catholics can claim. Some may argue that they were obstinate in disobedience to Rome. And the liberal novus ordo nuns doing clown masses are not in obedience to Rome? Or the pedophile priests are to be excused because they are mentally ill but our faithful brothers who seriously believe that they hold the truth to the history of the church should not be excused.

    I am not a SSPX member however, I have been watching this dialogue from the sidelines for some time. I do admit that I respect the fortitude they (SSPX) has displayed in sticking to their guns when it comes to believing that they love the Church. No one can fault them for their audacity to remain solid in the light of the persecution they have had to endure by their very own Christian brothers and sisters in the faith; why-when, we the Novus Ordo Catholics, are jumping ship simply because we don’t like a pastor’s sermon! or don’t want to obey the teachings on birth control.

    Father, PLEASE use the talents and time God gives you to promote better relations with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is what you are called to as a shepherd and a Franciscan. “Blest are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” not children of the darkness! The SSPX has been heroic during some of the most turbulent times of the past 40 plus years. Maybe we remaining Novus Ordo Catholics could learn something from them!

  2. R. Marie,

    Thanks for the comment.

    The SSPX has been heroic during some of the most turbulent times of the past 40 plus years. Maybe we remaining Novus Ordo Catholics could learn something from them!

    Heroic? Where would I begin with this, since you think that this discussion is a waste of time? I think that both the SSPX and Catholics in good standing can learn from the Holy Father.

    I would be happy to move on to something else, if the traditionalists and crypto-traditionalists were self-monitoring. But they are not. And they will certainly not accept critique from the left, so who else is going to do it? There was nothing uncharitable about my post.

    No amount of modernist/progressive nonsense justifies traditionalist nonsense. It precisely because it is all done in the name of Tradition, reverence, holiness, etc., that traditionalism is so deceptive.

    But thanks again for your thoughts.

  3. R. Marie,
    There is a vast difference between ‘a family member being ill’, and a family member being disobedient. The Immaculate will no more interfere with man’s gift of free will from God than God Himself would interfere with it. “I will not serve” has been with us since the Great Fall.
    Father Angelo is being a good shepherd by teaching us what the truth is about this disheartening issue. Truth should bring souls together, not separate them. I could hardly say that about the stubborn disobedience (not heroic) displayed by those in charge of the SSPX. “One knows the tree by the fruit it bears.”
    Our personal holiness (“be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”) is not about what Mass we attend, it’s about correspondence to grace. The world would be a paradise to live in if we would remember this simple fact.

    Holy Mother Church must walk along the Calvary just as her Bridegroom did. Let us hope there are many more people standing at the foot of the Cross with Jesus this time.

    God bless you!

  4. Marie:
    Addressing your comment:
    “There is a vast difference between ‘a family member being ill’, and a family member being disobedient.” Yes, you are right Marie. There is a vast difference between the two. Let’s look to the thousands, if not millions of Novus Ordo contracepting Catholics and ask ourselves, why hasn’t the church, the Pope, excommunicated all these DELIBERATELY (or to use your term, “stubbornly” DISOBEDIENT souls? Like I said in my 1st post, I am not a member of the SSPX, but I do sympathize with them. In light of the nightmarish mess that all these Vatican II priest have made of the church, one has to ask oneself if maybe, just maybe the SSPX may have been right all along. It took the Church over 400 years to admit that Joan of Arc was right and that the church was in error condemning her at the trials and thus imprisoning her in a Church prison. And what about St. John of the Cross? Was the Church not in error for imprisoning him? And recently, has not the bishops of the Church been in grave error to condone the molestation of boys by ignoring such an evil? The church has been wrong repeatedly throughout the entire history of its very existance. Must we be so proud as to think we hold ALL truth?

    I have to disagree with your argument that the SSPX has not been heroic. They have stood the test of persecution from those within their own ranks: the clergy and the church. What if we find out that in 25 years, they are the very branch of the church that saves it from complete ruin? And what if they ARE recognized for their bold proclamation of the faith? What if we liberals are wrong? Just what if we are?

  5. @ R. Marie on January 25, 2013 at 12:28 am

    You say “we liberals,” as though anyone in the Church who disagrees with the SSPX is liberal. BTW, you are not really liberal. That is just rhetoric.

    You condemn liberal disobedience and then you justify the disobedience of the SSPX. And you use Joan of Arc and St. John of the Cross, neither of whom were ever condemned by Rome, as examples to prove your point.

    By the way, It may have taken 400 years to canonize Joan of Arc, but Rome authorized her retrial, so that she was rehabilitated twenty-five years after her death. It was the Burgundian bishops loyal to the English who condemned St. Joan, not Rome. In fact, she appealed to the Pope and was denied her appeal by her own French bishops. So your arguments do not show that Rome was wrong in these instances, but that Rome was right. Which only shows that Rome is right in regard to the SSPX.

  6. R.Marie,
    My family had the ‘pleasure’ of meeting a group of SSPX families in Richmond, VA. They couldn’t have been more stuck up; holier than thou. They may have been following Church precepts (your example…non contracepting), but they lacked all the charity in the world!
    Perhaps you might wish to spend your time praying for all priests rather than defend a small group of ‘pirates’.
    Ave Maria!

  7. By Father Robert Barron *

    One of the most theologically fascinating and just plain entertaining books I’ve read in a long time is Yves Congar’s My Journal of the Council. Catholics of a certain age will recognize the name, but I’m afraid that most Catholics under the age of 50 might be entirely unaware of the massive contribution made by Congar, a Dominican priest and certainly one of the three or four most important Catholic theologians of the twentieth century. After a tumultuous intellectual career, during which he was, by turns, lionized, vilified, exiled and silenced, Congar found himself, at the age of 58, a peritus or theological expert at the Second Vatican Council. By most accounts, he proved the most influential theologian at that epic gathering, contributing mightily to the documents on the church, on ecumenism, on revelation, and on the church’s relation to the modern world.

    During the entire course of the Council, from October 1962 to December 1965, Congar kept a meticulous journal of the proceedings, which includes not only detailed accounts of the interventions by various bishops and Cardinals, but also extremely perceptive often arch commentaries on the key personalities and the main theological currents of the Council. Several times as I read through the journal, I laughed out loud at Congar’s pointed assessments of some of the players: “a bore,” “useless,” “talks too much.” But what most comes through is – if I can risk employing an overused and ambiguous phrase – “the spirit of the Council,” by which I mean those seminal ideas and attitudes that found expression in the discussions, debates and texts of Vatican II. Over and again; in the pages of Congar’s journal, we hear of a church that should be more evangelical and open to the Word of God, of the dangers of clerical triumphalism, of the universal call to holiness, of a liturgy that awakens the active participation of the faithful, of the need for the church to engage the modern world, etc. Attending meeting after meeting and engaging in endless conversations with bishops and theologians, Congar was indefatigably propagating these ideas, which we now take to be commonplace and the permanent achievement of Vatican II.

    As Congar led this charge, his chief opponents were Archbishop Pericle Felice and Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, the keepers of the traditional, scholastic form of Catholicism. His principal allies were “progressive” council fathers Cardinal Frings of Cologne and Archbishop Wojtyla of Krakow, as well as fellow periti Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, Henri de Lubac, Hans Kung, and a young German theologian named Joseph Ratzinger. As I read the pages of Congar’s journal, all of these figures and that very heady time came rather vividly to life. But even as I was caught up in the moment, I couldn’t help but think of the divisions that would later beset that victorious group. Archbishop Wojtyla, of course, later became Pope John Paul II, and he would appoint Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) as his chief doctrinal officer. Further, John Paul would create de Lubac and Congar himself as Cardinals, but would preside over a critical investigation of the works of both Kung and Schillebeeckx. Why did these divisions arise in the post-conciliar period?

    One way to get a perspective on the split in the victorious party is to look to the beginnings of the theological journal “Communio.” In the wake of the council, the triumphant progressive party formed an international journal called “Concilium,” the stated purpose of which was to perpetuate the spirit of the great gathering that had prompted such positive change in the Church. On the board of “Concilium” were Rahner, Kung, Schillebeeckx, de Lubac, Congar, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Ratzinger and many others. But after only a few years, three figures – Balthasar, de Lubac, and Ratzinger – decided to break with “Concilium” and found their own journal and the reasons they gave to justify this decision are extremely illuminating. First, they said, the board of “Concilium” was claiming to act as a secondary magisterium, or official teaching authority, alongside the bishops. Theologians certainly have a key role to play in the understanding and development of doctrine, but they cannot supplant the bishops’ responsibility of holding and teaching the apostolic faith. Secondly, the “Concilium” board wanted to launch Vatican III when the ink on the documents of Vatican II was barely dry. That is to say, they wanted to ride the progressive momentum of Vatican II toward a whole series of reforms – women’s ordination, suspension of priestly celibacy, radical reform of the church’s sexual ethic, etc. – that were by no means justified by the texts of the council. Thirdly, and in my judgment most significantly, Balthasar, Ratzinger, and de Lubac decried the “Concilium” board’s resolve to perpetuate the spirit of the council. Councils, they stated, are sometimes necessary in the life of the Church, but they are also perilous, for they represent moments when the Church throws itself into question and pauses to decide some central issue or controversy. We think readily here of Nicea and Chalcedon, which addressed crucial issues in Christology, or Trent, which wrestled with the challenge of the Reformation. Councils are good and necessary, but the Church also, they contended, turns from them with a certain relief in order to get back to its essential work. The perpetuation of the spirit of the council, they concluded, would be tantamount to a Church in a permanent state of suspense and indecision.

    Kung, Schillebeeckx, Rahner, Ratzinger, Congar, de Lubac and Wojtyla were all proud “men of the council.” They strenuously fought for the ideals I mentioned earlier. But in the years that followed, they went separate ways – and thereupon hangs a tale still worth pondering as we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of Vatican II.

  8. Ave Maria!

    So, again, it is not that there is a problem with either the EF or the OF as both are Sacred, but abuses by individuals withinin both Forms of the Rite.

    I don’t see how anyone can defend that the SSPX is being faithful when they miss the mark on the authority of the Pope and being obedient to that authority. Aren’t they really cafeteria Catholics? They may not be disobedient in the same way as what you would label liberal Catholics, but they are disobedient in perhaps just as many ways. Whether you jump off the ship on the left side or the right side, you are still in the same water.

    After reading the letter I can’t help but think about the depth of love that Christ gives to our Holy Father to continue to reach out even as the malicious comments by the SSPX continue against him and the Church. But it would seem that Bishop Fellay is having problems? I understand he has had to excommunicate a Bishop for “refusing to show due respect and obedience to his lawful superiors” ….. interesting. I have read that priests within the SSPX are also calling for his resignation because he is no longer *traditional* enough for the *traditional.*

    If individual priests wanted to come back home to Our Holy Father and the Church, would they be able to enter groups like the FSSP?

    In Christ,

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