The Postconciliar Moment

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

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

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

The Postconciliar Moment

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

Year of Faith

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

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

With the promulgation of the motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, allowing a much wider use of the older form of the Roman rite, the grievances of those who have been attached to the older liturgical usage and ecclesiastical disciplines have received a more sympathetic and wider hearing.  This trend is even noticed in the secular press, which is not sure what to make of it:

Some swings of pendulums may be inevitable. But for a church hierarchy in Western countries beset by scandal and decline, the rise of a traditionalist avant-garde is unsettling. Is it merely an outcrop of eccentricity, or a sign that the church took a wrong turn 50 years ago?[2]

The second reason why I believe that this may be the postconciliar moment is that the very important and necessary efforts toward reconciliation with our past is resting precariously on two separate pillars: one, the teaching of the postconciliar popes, particularly Benedict XVI, and two, traditionalist ideology, which looks upon Vatican II as a betrayal of Tradition.

For completely different reasons traditionalists are now championing the progressive mythology that characterizes Vatican II as the zero hour for the Church, that is, a complete reinvention of Catholic life.  With remarkable success, and by emphasizing that the Council was “only pastoral,” they have repackaged the progressives’ myth that the Council comprised a radical break with Tradition.  The Council now is no longer sold as “the Church new and improved,” but rejected as “the Church devastated and betrayed.”

I believe the position of the postconciliar popes and that the traditionalists, whose fundamental attitude toward the Council is one of suspicion, are irreconcilable and that the resacralization of the Church is at risk of being derailed in sectarian fashion.

Archbishop Müller

In the past few months, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), has spoken his mind several times on the controversy.  In an article published November 30, he writes that the only legitimate interpretation of the Council is that of “the hermeneutic of reform in continuity,” as taught by Pope Benedict.  He writes:

This is the only possible interpretation according to the principles of Catholic theology, that is, considering the indissoluble whole of Scripture, Tradition and the full and complete Magisterium, whose highest expression is the Council chaired by the successor of St. Peter as head of the visible Church.[3]

Archbishop Müller goes even further and declares that anyone subscribing to a different position holds to a “heretical interpretation” of the Second Vatican Council.[4]  This is a rather bold claim, considering that the Council’s concern was simply to teach the perennial faith in a way adapted to the modern world.  Since the Council did not teach any new doctrine, how could the claim that it compromised extant doctrine be a “heretical interpretation”?  The answer to this can be given if we examine some of the opposition registered against the archbishop’s statement.

Roberto de Mattei

Five days after Archbishop Müller’s statement was published, an important Italian leader of the movement currently questioning the wisdom of the Council responded in writing.[5]  The historian, Professor Roberto de Mattei asserts that Archbishop Müller has “elevated the Second Vatican Council to the position of the one and absolute dogma of our times.”[6]   De Mattei says that the archbishop is the one doing the cherry picking, omitting whatever negative Ratzinger/Benedict has said about the Council.

De Mattei suggests that the archbishop has failed to acknowledge the “pastoral” character of the Council’s teaching and is treating it as a “superdogma,” a tendency that Joseph Ratzinger once criticized.[7]  However, in those remarks, made a quarter of a century ago, Cardinal Ratzinger was attempting to correct the progressives who said any attempt to reconcile the Society of St. Pius X was a betrayal of the Council.  He was clearly cutting a middle path between the progressive proponents of a conciliar “superdogma” and the position taken by the traditionalists.  In fact, in the same conference Cardinal Ratzinger addressed the resistance Bishop Marcel Lefebvre leveled against reconciliation with Rome because he feared that the Holy See only cared about integrating the SSPX into the “Conciliar Church”:

The Catholic Church in union with the Pope is, according to [Lefebvre], the “Conciliar Church” which has broken with its own past. It seems indeed that he is no longer able to see that we are dealing with the Catholic Church in the totality of its Tradition, and that Vatican II belongs to that.[8]

Conciliar Texts

In his article of December 5, de Mattei goes on to do some cherry-picking of his own from the homily Pope Benedict gave in the inaugural Mass of the Year of Faith on October 11 of this year.  He quotes at length the Holy Father’s statements about the postconciliar “spiritual desertification,”[9] suggesting that for this reason the Council was a failure.  However, de Mattei does not mention that the Holy Father’s remarks concern the broader global phenomena of desacralization, nor does he mention that Pope points to Vatican II as the roadmap for navigating through the desert.  Pope Benedict says:

This, then, is how we can picture the Year of Faith: a pilgrimage in the deserts of today’s world, taking with us only what is necessary: neither staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money, nor two tunics – as the Lord said to those he was sending out on mission (cf. Lk 9:3), but the Gospel and the faith of the Church, of which the Council documents are a luminous expression, as is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published twenty years ago.[10]

De Mattei then goes on to say that the Council cannot be reduced to its documents and that the propositions within the texts should not be raised to the level of dogma.   He writes that the documents need to be analyzed historically.  In particular, he points to Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World and its failure to define clearly the nature of the “modern age.”[11]

There can be no question that an accurate historical assessment of the Council is valid and necessary, but only when it is based on the historical fact that the Vicar of Christ has pointed precisely to a return to the documents of Vatican II as the means to bring about a renewal in the Church.  As Pope Benedict stated shortly after his elevation to the See of Peter:  “if we interpret and implement [Vatican II] guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church.”[12]  However, it should be further pointed out that in 1982 Joseph Ratzinger wrote that the texts themselves do not guarantee a success for the Council.  On the contrary, the success of the Council depends on individuals who are prepared by their “personal willingness, which cannot be forced . . . to effect something new and living”:

What we are thus far able to say is that the Council has, on the one hand, opened ways that lead from all kinds of byways and one-way streets to the real center of Christianity.  On the one hand, however, we must be self-critical enough to acknowledge that the naïve optimism of the Council, and the self-esteem of many of its supporters justify, in a disturbing way, the gloomy diagnoses of early churchmen about the danger of councils.[13]

This is not the same as the negative historical assessment of de Mattei, first, because it affirms the central wisdom of the Council, and secondly, because it puts the burden of the Council’s success on the cooperation of individuals.  One might argue that in this respect de Mattei is part of the problem.

Joseph Ratzinger both warns against “integralism” with its “zealotry that is the antithesis of Catholicity,” and, at the same time, urges us not to underestimate the reasons that have led many to embrace it.  The integralists quite rightly have a “desire for piety, for the sense of mystery,” but they have gone over the edge in their refusal to accept the legitimate aspirations of the Council.  There are also others who have no sectarian inclinations that have been driven by the postconciliar distortions “into a milieu in which they do not belong.” Ratzinger writes:  “Let it be said again: we should not adopt a sectarian attitude, but neither should we omit the examination of conscience to which the facts compel us.”[14]  This is precisely why, as Archbishop Müller states, the hermeneutic of reform in continuity is the only legitimate interpretation of the Council.

Historical Facts

Additional light is thrown on de Mattei’s position by statements he made back in March, but posted by him to one of his websites on December 12 of last year.  While stating his desire not to contradict the Holy Father, he nevertheless asserts his right as a historian to square the pope’s theological positions with the historical facts.  In fact, he claims that a historical analysis of the relation of the between the Council and the postconciliar crisis must come before any attempt to make judgments about the proper interpretation of the texts.[15]

De Mattei attempts to distinguish himself from scholars who express doubts about the conciliar documents, asserting that he does not enter into question of whether the conciliar documents are or are not in continuity with Tradition.  He also believes the term “traditionalist” to be improperly applied to both himself and the other scholars he mentions.  Nevertheless, de Mattei believes he can show that historically the Council has been a revolutionary event, similar to that of the French Revolution, in which a mythology has developed around the Council such wise that it cannot be understood apart from the myth.[16]

The historical question is indeed a difficult one. Ratzinger himself has admitted that a complete assessment of any council can only conducted after much time.  But he also points out that postconciliar periods have always been times of crisis and that equilibrium has only been achieved at great cost and effort over many years.[17] Furthermore, historical relationships between cause and effect are always complex. Ratzinger has pointed to, among other things, the optimism of the Kennedy era as a factor contributing to the way the Council was treated like a zero hour for the restarting of the Church.[18]

A full explanation will have to wait for a time in which all the facts are in. Even then, the historical question will never be answered apart from the pastoral authority of the Holy Father.  It is precisely questions of historical fact that are the purview of the pastor, whose office it is to deal with the variables of contingent circumstances.  This is not to say that the work of the professional historian is irrelevant, only that the personal assessments of historians do not enjoy a priority over the doctrinal and pastoral declarations of a pope, even when those declarations remain undemonstrated historically.

Vatican II Is Part of Tradition

What Archbishop Müller wrote on November 30 is essentially no different what Cardinal Ratzinger said in 1998, namely, that Vatican II is part of “the Catholic Church in the totality of its Tradition.”  No one is denying that the character of the Council is pastoral.  The archbishop has simply claimed what every pope since the Council has taught:  Vatican II is part of Tradition and one may not depart from it because it is the teaching of “full and complete Magisterium.” The comparison the archbishop makes between progressives and traditionalists is perfectly valid because it is a typically progressive assertion that one may depart from magisterial teaching if it is not taught in an infallible way.  It is the progressives who have championed the “obligation” of the magisterium to square its teaching with the findings of academics. The rupturist interpretation of Vatican II is heretical because it is based on a false notion of Tradition and a reductive assessment of the role of the living magisterium to hand on and protect Tradition.  Both progressives and traditionalists are guilty of this “heretical” interpretation.

But if Vatican II must be seen as belonging to the totality of Catholic Tradition, then why were Bishop Lefebvre and others unable to admit that such is the case?   In his 1998 conference Cardinal Ratzinger states that the Tradition of the Church had become unrecognizable in the work of some of the Council’s proponents.  In his now famous address to the Roman Curia of December 22, 2005,he speaks both of the lack of success in respect to the implementation of the Council and the confusion created by vociferous factions with the Church.[19]  The loudest and most widely publicized faction has been the progressive side that has used the so-called “spirit” of the Council as a pretext for its agenda.  Furthermore, as Ratzinger points out in the 1998 conference, there has also been a lack of charity shown toward the followers of Lefebvre, and more generally, toward anyone who was an advocate for Tradition.[20]  Elsewhere Cardinal Ratzinger has written that those attached to the old liturgy have been treated like “lepers.”[21]  I believe that this lack of charity has fostered a kind of ossification and resentment in among traditionalists.  In his writings, de Mattei is at pains to document what we all know, that the postconciliar period has been extraordinarily problematic, and that Ratzinger is not shy about declaring this.

But this is not the whole story.  In the 1998 conference the Cardinal also said:

It is a necessary task to defend the Second Vatican Council against Msgr. Lefebvre, as valid, and as binding upon the Church. Certainly there is a mentality of narrow views that isolate Vatican II and which has provoked this opposition.[22]

According to Cardinal Ratzinger, in the very conference quoted by de Mattei, it is the narrow views of the Council, and not the Council itself that lies at the heart of the problem.  Ratzinger/Benedict criticizes both the naïve optimism in which the Council was promulgated and the refusal to admit of real reform.  He writes that the Church

must relinquish many of the things that have hitherto spelled security for her and that she has taken for granted.  She must demolish longstanding bastions and trust solely in the shield of faith.  But the demolition of bastions cannot mean that she no longer has anything to defend or that she can live by forces other than those that brought her forth: the blood and water from the pierced side of the crucified Lord (Jn 19:31-17).  “In the world you will have trouble, but be brave:  I have conquered the world (Jn 16:33).  That is true today, too.[23]

Militant Historian

A more immediate problem with de Mattei’s claim to authority as a historian is that his philosophy of history is ideological and fundamentally anticonciliar.  He is not an objective observer of history, but a promoter of a certain kind of approach to history, namely, that of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Brazilian, Catholic intellectual, historian, author, publisher, activist, as well as founder of the Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP).  In fact, in his introduction to de Oliveira’s thought de Mattei says that the point of view of de Oliveira’s positions is

not that of the theologian, but of the lay person, the philosopher, the historian and the man of action.  It is not on the theological merit of the Conciliar documents, but on the reality of the facts and their historical consequences that he bases the denunciation of “the Second Vatican Council’s enigmatic, disconcerting, incredible, and apocalyptically tragic silence about communism.”[24]

Here de Mattei could be speaking of himself.  De Mattei is founder of Lepanto, an organization similar to TFP, and he is also publisher of the magazine Radici Cristiane.  Both are institutions committed to the promotion of Christian civilization.  Much of what he has to say about Vatican II is published in his magazine or on websites connected to the Lepanto organization.

This information is pertinent to this discussion because de Mattei explicitly invokes his credentials as a historian as a qualification to take on the prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  It is clear that he does so, not in an academic context, but in the context of a man of action with an a priori commitment to the promotion of his own personal agenda by means of propaganda.  Much of his work, as well that of de Oliveira, is commendable.  But that work is not at issue here.

In the above quote, de Mattei is referring specifically to de Oliveira’s book Revolution and Counter-Revolution.  It for this reason, I believe, that in his writings de Mattei repeatedly refers to the Second Vatican Council in revolutionary terms.  For example summarizing the thought of de Oliveira, de Mattei writes:  “The Council wanted to be pastoral and not dogmatic, but in the century of ‘heresy in action’, practice can have a revolutionary importance ideas may not have.”[25]  And more recently he definitively makes the position of de Oliveira’s his own:  “It is on the historical plane, not the theological plane, at which I consider the Council to be a Revolution in the Church, and, for many reasons, a disaster.”[26]  Notice the capitalization of “Revolution.”

For de Mattei, a “historian and man of action,” what is needed at the moment is a counter-revolution.  In this he is following de Oliveira who believed that the fruit of such a movement will be identical to medieval civilization, “in its essential lines,” and different only in its “technical and material conditions.”[27]  In fact, Roberto de Mattei himself refers to the fruits of Marian consecration as a “new Middle Ages.”[28]

Joseph Ratzinger has written that the postconciliar Church will have to avoid “presuming upon a political mantle, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right.”[29]  Much of both the progressive and traditionalist agendas are entangled with political aspirations that should not be confused with the teaching of the Church.  Neither TFP nor Lepanto are ecclesiastical associations subject to her jurisdiction.  One ought to consider these facts carefully before relying on the credentials of de Mattei as a historian.

De Mattei’s historical assessments are forced into the framework of his perspective of revolution and counter-revolution, so that any decision of a pope or council that in his opinion does not measure up to restoration of medieval Christianity is a compromise of the faith.  In other words, the historical analysis to which de Mattei will submit the exercise of magisterial authority, including that of councils and popes, will necessarily have to conform to the framework of revolution/counter-revolution.  This is ideological propaganda, not the work of an academic historian.

Critical Moment

Perhaps Archbishop Müller has noticed the irony of who is accusing whom of cherry picking.  In mid December, he was asked about the infighting between progressives and traditionalists.  His reply is consistent with Pope Benedict’s attempt to cut a middle path:

Catholics must avoid these extremes, because such extremes are against the mission of the Church. In the world of politics, you have extremes of Right and Left. But the Church is united in Jesus Christ and in our common faith. We must avoid the politicisation of the Church . . . .

Everyone who is Catholic must ask themselves if they are cherry-picking points from the Church’s teachings for the sake of supporting an ideology. Which is more important, an ideology or the faith? I want to say to people in extreme groups to put their ideology to one side and come to Jesus Christ.[30]

Archbishop Müller is a pastor exhorting the flock to recognize that the Year of Faith, which marks both the historical anniversary of the Vatican Council and the long period of postconciliar crisis, is our opportunity, finally, to get things right.  It is time to put away all ideological preoccupations and put our trust in the Vicar of Christ.

Ratzinger/Benedict has written many times about the similarities between the progressives and traditionalists and that they both subscribe to the idea that the Council was the zero hour of the Church in the modern world.  This interpretation of the Council is, almost by definition ideological: a very specific idea, narrow in its focus, a matter of personal opinion not Church doctrine, becomes the metaphysical framework through which everything is assessed, no matter what the Vicar of Christ says.  In respect to the Council, the only thing that separates the progressives and traditionalists is the direction of the ideological impulse: toward the new or the old.  They will agree or disagree with Pope Benedict, his predecessors and successors, based on that impulse.  To admit anything else will bring their ideological castle down on their heads.


All this being said, the Holy Father’s patience with the SSPX and their sympathizers is indicative of his non-ideological approach to the restoration of Catholic identity.  It is ironic that the traditionalists, so generally opposed to the postconciliar notions of dialogue and religious freedom, draw such large parameters around their own dialogue with the Holy Father over Vatican II and their own liberty to follow their personal religious convictions.

Unfortunately, SSPX Superior General Bishop Bernard Fellay misinterpreted the Holy Father’s patience and eagerness to dialogue as a willingness to abandon the teaching of Vatican II in order to regularize the SSPX.  Only an ideological mindset could lead such an eminent person to be so naïve.[31]

Recently, the Holy Father made some remarks about religious dialogue and its complexities.  He distinguishes between dialogue and evangelization, indicating the purpose of the first is not the conversion of the other party, but understanding.  Even so, because dialogue is always about truth, it must by necessity tend toward greater commonality in the truth.  So on the one hand there is the objective truth, and on the other there is the interaction between human persons whose freedom is the prerequisite for true conviction.  For this reason the Catholic ought to respect human freedom and nurture the free process of conviction, but may not engage in relativistic dialogue in the interests of getting along, as that would block the path for the other party on the road to truth.

In respect to this, Pope Benedict makes an interesting observation saying that the followers of Christ can be “supremely confident,” that we will not lose our identity when we “venture freely into the open sea of truth.”

To be sure, we do not possess the truth, the truth possesses us: Christ, who is the truth, has taken us by the hand, and we know that his hand is holding us securely on the path of our quest for knowledge. Being inwardly held by the hand of Christ makes us free and keeps us safe: free – because if we are held by him, we can enter openly and fearlessly into any dialogue; safe – because he does not let go of us, unless we cut ourselves off from him. At one with him, we stand in the light of truth.[32]

I believe Pope Benedict has this supreme confidence and so has boldly ventured into the sea of truth, dialoguing with both the progressives and traditionalists.  Of course, in the case of the SSPX and their sympathizers, the purpose of this dialogue is not simply understanding, since the SSPX is a group of Catholics that has separated itself from full communion with Rome.  But understanding must be the starting point.  But more than this, dialogue with the Vicar of Christ is an opportunity to experience an encounter with the Lord.

Dialogue vs. Dissent

The dialogue of the Holy See with the Society of St. Pius X ought not to be misconstrued as a negotiation between the allegedly compromised Vatican and the self-appointed guardians of Tradition.  The Church has not conceded ground to the traditionalists by its willingness to dialogue with them.  The “doctrinal preamble” presented by the CDF to the SSPX in September of 2011, which they were asked to sign as a prerequisite to their regularization, does permit a certain “legitimate discussion” concerning “the examination and theological explanation of individual expressions and formulations contained in the documents of Vatican Council II and later Magisterium.”[33]  But even this does not suggest that the Holy See is granting that there are serious problems with the content of Vatican II.  Certainly, there are difficult passages that need to be discussed.  Ratzinger/Benedict has always acknowledged this.  But a “hermeneutic of suspicion,” inevitably leads to a rupturist interpretation of the Council.

Indeed, around the same time that the various statements of Archbishop Müller and Professor de Mattei were published, Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, Vice-President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, the commission responsible for the dialogue with the SSPX appealed in a private letter to the leaders and priests of the Society to refrain from engaging in public correction of magisterial teaching:

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.[34]

According to Archbishop Di Noia, referring to the Instruction Donum Veritatis on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, the academic theologian, if he cannot resolve the difficulties he has with doctrinal formulations of the magisterium, even after “intense reflection,” he has a duty to present to magisterial authorities what he sincerely holds to be problems with the substance and presentation of such teaching.  But he is never to have recourse to the mass media in order “to exert the pressure of public opinion” on the pope and bishops who are responsible for the deposit of the faith, or to act in such a way as to create a “’parallel magisterium’ of theologians.”[35]  Unfortunately, de Mattei, who is not even a theologian, is engaged in just such mass media pressure.  More regrettable is the fact that Bishop Fellay completely failed to take Archbishop Di Noia’s letter to heart, but as recent as December 28, continued to publically challenge Rome’s position on the Council, saying that Vatican II does not belong to the Church but to “the Jews, the Masons and the Modernists.”

Scientific theology and history certainly have their roles to play in assessing the postconciliar period, and I believe that it is very unlikely that Pope Benedict will be the one to close off the dialogue.  But Archbishop Müller is right.  In the end there can be no other legitimate interpretation of the Council other than the one provided by the doctrinal and pastoral authority of the Successor of St. Peter.  There has been fifty years now since the Council—fifty years of extreme ideology, the vast majority of it progressive.  But the resolution to our crisis is not to swing the pendulum back in the traditionalist direction.

This is the postconciliar moment.  It is our time to come to Jesus Christ.  Our Lord is not an idea but a Person, and it is His Vicar on earth, not sacred scientists and ecclesiastical engineers, who speaks in His name.  We need to stop picking and choosing what we are willing to accept from the teaching of the Holy Father.  This is a message that both progressives and traditionalists need to hear and heed.


[1] Cf., Benedict XVI, Light of the World: The Pope, The Church and the Signs Of The Times, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press), 2010, 106.

[2] The Economist, “A traditionalist avant-garde It’s trendy to be a traditionalist in the Catholic church,” December 15, 2012, (accessed Decenmber 28, 2012).

[3] Quoted by Carol Glatz in “Prefect of the CDF says seeing Vatican II as a ‘rupture’ is heresy.” The Catholic Herald. November 30, 2012, (accessed December 28, 2012).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Roberto de Mattei, “Il Prefetto della Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede contro Benedetto XVI?” December 5, 2012, (accessed December 29, 2012).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Joseph Ratzinger, “Cardinal Ratzinger’s Remarks Regarding the Lefebvre Schism.” Catholic Culture, (accessed December 29, 2012).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Benedict XVI, “Apostolic Letter for the Induction fo Year of Faith, Port Fidei.” Rome, OctobeR 11, 2011, quoted by de Mattei in op. cit., “Il Prefetto.”

[10] Benedict XVI, “Homily at Mass for the Opening of the Year of Faith,” Rome, October 11, 2012; emphasis mine.

[11] Op. cit., “Il Prefetto.”

[12] Benedict XVI, “Christmas Address to Roman Curia.” Rome, December 22, 2005, quoted in Porta Fidei, 5.

[13] Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology, translated by Mary Francis McCarthy (San Francisco: Ignaitus Press), 1987, 377-78.

[14] Ibid., 289-90.

[15] Roberto de Mattei, “Interrogativi sul Concilio Ecumenico Vaticano II,” December 12, 2012, (accessed December 29, 2012).

[16] Ibid.

[17] Op. cit., Principles of Catholic Theology, 369.

[18] Ibid., 372-73.

[19] Op. cit., “Christmas Address.”

[20] Op. cit., “Cardinal Ratzinger’s Remarks.”

[21] Joseph Ratzinger, God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald (San Francisco: Ignatius Press), 2002, 406.

[22] Op. cit., Cardinal Ratzinger’s Remarks.”

[23] Op. cit., Principles of Catholic Theology, 391.

[24] Roberto de Mattei, The Crusader of the 20th Century: Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. (Leominster: Gracewing), 1998, 217.

[25] Ibid., 194.

[26] “E sul piano storico, non sul piano teologico, che giudico il Concilio una Rivoluzione nella Chiesa e, per moti aspetti, un evento disastroso” from Roberto de Mattei, “La Chiesa N XX Secolo: Immagini di un Repentino Cambiamento.” In Concilio Ecumenico Vaticano II Un Concilio Pastorale: Analisi Storico-Filosofico-Teologica (Frigento: Casa Mariana Editrice), 2011, 70.

[27] Oliveira, Plinio Corrêa de. “Revolution and Counter-Revolution,”, quoted in op. cit., Crusader, 243.

[28] Ibid., 242.

[29] Joseph Ratzinger, Faith and Future (San Fancisco: Ignatius Press), 1970, 117.

[30] O’Regan, Mary, “‘Catholics ought to avoid extremes,’” December 19, 2012, (accessed January 2, 2013).

[31] “Therefore I thought as follows: Since you are making this gesture toward us, despite the problem, this means that you consider it more important to declare the Society Catholic than to uphold the Council at any cost” quoted in a sermon by Bishop Bernard Fellay, “Faith confronted with Christ on the cross and the Church in crisis,” November 14, 2012, (accessed January 2, 2013).

[32] Benedict XVI, Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia, Rome, December, 21 2012.

[33] Quoted by Cindy Wooden in “Vatican gives SSPX doctrinal statement to sign,” September 14, 2011, (accessed February 5, 2013).

[34] “Di Noia’s letter – full text in English,” Rorate Caeli, January 21, 2013, (accessed February 5, 2013).

[35] Ibid.

14 thoughts on “The Postconciliar Moment

  1. Thanks for posting this article, Father Geiger!

    I have been bothering you a lot lately with LONG comments on your posts (sorry), but I must do it one more time… In Sweden, there is an expression that goes something like “a farmer must know who he complains to”. That is, a farmer must complain to another farmer, or else he won’t be understood. As one farmer to another, I must complain…

    I HATE politicization in the Church. One manifestation of this politicization that I have recently encountered is the assumption that anyone who disagrees with anything that Archbishop Müller has written (I don’t mean what he has said officially as the Prefect for the CDF), must be on the “side” of the SSPX. Now, I hope sincerely that the SSPX will return to the the Church, as I hope that the Lutherans and Anglicans will also. But I am no more on the “side” of the SSPX than I am on the “side” of any other protestant group (who, like the SSPX, of course, claimed and still claim that it wasn’t THEM, but the Catholic Church that had broken with tradition…).

    Now, whatever the SSPX have to say about Archbishop Müller really doesn’t concern me, but I was deeply saddened to see that Müller quoted favorably some of the ideas of Karl Rahner that in my opinion are verifiably wrong. In particular, in regards to Karl Rahner’s reinterpretation of the Virgin Birth — see, for example:

    There is no question in this context (as Michael Miller, the author of the HPR article just cited, points out) that Archbishop Müller is simply quoting Karl Rahner, as indeed he apparently does at the end of most sections of his Katholische Dogmatik. It is also clear in this context that Müller is quoting Rahner in a “positive” light (that is, as an authority). And at this point, there clearly isn’t any question of saying that the position of Rahner is heretical, at least until Karl Rahner has been declared a heretic by the Church (which is perhaps something that Archbishop Müller himself will do someday… we can always hope!). However, Michael Miller (in the HPR article cited above) concludes from this that: “In the matter of the Virgin birth, as with belief in Marian apparitions approved by the Church, one can be a minimalist, or a maximalist, and still be a good Catholic”. I must honestly question Michael Miller’s statement here, and in particular his comparison of this dogma with the Church’s official position on approved Marian apparitions, which I honestly don’t think have the same standing in the Church. However, if this last claim of Michael Miller’s is faulty, that is Michael Miller’s fault, and not the fault of Archbishop Müller. Nevertheless, the politicization of this question (into the “SSPX camp” and the “OTHER camp”), has seemed to provoke Michael Miller to do some very sloppy research for the above mentioned HPR article, where he claims that “Mary’s virginity in giving birth is affirmed by many popes and councils (as Müller notes), but no explanation is offered in the Magisterial statements cited in a pre-Vatican-II edition of Denzinger’s Enchiridion”. What is striking in this quotation is that Miller (note the “i”, not “ü”) seems to be so sure that he is speaking to the SSPX that he only bothers to check the “pre-Vatican-II edition of Denzinger’s Enchiridion” to see what the Fathers of the Church said about the Virgin Birth (virginitas in partu), as though the lack of any references there should satisfy everyone. Now, no matter how great a book Denzinger’s Enchiridion is (I don’t know, because I don’t own a copy — pre-Vatican-II edition or post-Vatican-II edition), to use this as one’s sole source for making a historical claim about the Magisterium or the Fathers of the Church seems ludicrous to me. In particular, both Denzinger and Miller (note the “i”) missed the following very clear statement from Saint Ambrose:

    “There is a gate of the womb, although it is not always closed; indeed only one was able to remain closed, that through which the One born of the Virgin came forth without the loss of genital intactness (per quam sine dispendio claustrorum genitalium virginis partus exivit)”
    (Quoted from

    Compare this statement of Saint Ambrose’s to Karl Rahner’s (who, incidentally, was well aware of what Saint Ambrose had said, and had to take it up in some of his writings):

    “… the Church’s doctrine says, together with the authentic core of Tradition: the (active) birth of Mary {i.e. her giving-birth} is (in terms of the Child and His Mother), like her conceiving, from the perspective of the total reality (as a holistic human act {ganzmenschlicher Akt} of this “Virgin”) even in itself (and not only as a result of the conception…) appropriate to this Mother, and, therefore, unique, miraculous, “virginal,” although this sentence (which in itself is comprehensible, however) does not make it possible for us to derive from it, in a manner that is certain and obligatory for everyone, statements about specific details of this process.”
    (Quoted from the HPR article by Michael Miller cited above.)

    Now, I know that within the Church, I am very free to disagree and critique this idea of Karl Rahner’s. Indeed, if I can, I am even obligated to make known the truth of what Saint Ambrose and other saints have said about this dogma of Our Lady’s Perpetual Virginity, before, during, and after the birth of Jesus. But in doing so, I object strongly to being LUMPED with schismatics! Indeed, I think that this may be the greatest harm that the SSPX and other groups like them have done. Effectively, they have silenced (or brought to ridicule) the members of the Church who want to speak for truth, as it was proclaimed by the Apostles, the Apostolic Fathers, the Fathers, the Doctors, the Saints, and yes, Vatican II.

    Let us leave politics behind, and keep our eyes fixed on Our Lady!

  2. Jonathan,

    I am not sure what to say. I don’t see how you comment has anything to do with this post.

    In my post, just to be clear I implied nothing of what you suggest as to the politicization of agreement or disagreement with Archbishop Müller.

    As a matter of fact, I have defended the Virgin Birth on a number of occasions. In any case, the writing of Gerhard Ludwig Müller to which you refer was published before his appointment to the CDF.

    To my mind, whatever Archbishop Müller may have said about the Virgin Birth as a private theologian is not altogether relevant to exercise of the present office bestowed on him by the Holy Father. On the question of his remarks concerning the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council he happens to be acting within his competence and consistently with the teaching of the Holy Father. And he happens to be right.

    If agreement/disagreement with Müller has been politicized, it started with the SSPX. It is not my concern or is it relevant to my argument.

  3. I’m sorry. I’m afraid I’ve been misunderstood… I liked your article very much, and I agree with you. What I said was an association triggered by your article, that’s all, and you are probably right that I had no business posting it here. I am well aware that you have defended the dogma of the Virgin Birth (which is the reason I thought of “complaining to you”, as a “fellow farmer”… according to the Swedish saying). Perhaps you might consider reading my post again, with the understanding that it was not at all meant to be “against you”. Otherwise please remove it, as I meant no offense to you by it, and I certainly did not want it to detract from your article.

    Ave Maria!

  4. The SSPX and other traditionalists have problems with Vatican II mostly on account of the thought-form and world-feeling that emerge from the conciliar documents. Search as they might, they cannot find the religion that elevates their souls in the present manner of the Catholic Church. To their souls, the Church has become concrete, glass, and steel- whereas their spirits thirst not simply for incense climbing the Gothic vault but for sanctuaries where all ancient symbols go untouched by modern eyes, touch, and thoughts. The entire project of the Council cannot but appear a monstrosity to them. It is the difference between communion received kneeling and on the tongue versus communion received in the hands while standing. Their religion is poetry and the Council’s is prose. Some of them might piece together arguments after they have experienced the breech between what they feel to be transcendence and what they see in the contemporary Church. Ultimately, such things are rationalization, which is why they are so poorly argued. Besting them in debate is easy. Presenting them evidence of their disobedience is similarly not a challenge. They fly only all the more into a rage and insist upon the truth of their position, because their hearts cannot rest inside so cold and alien a space as the present world.

    Only orders such as your own, Reverend Father, have any hope of drawing them back, specifically by its promotion not simply of devotion to Mary but of the kind of devotion to her that hearkens to the spirit of St. Bernard and all that entails.

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