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.