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My view: Apologia Pro Michael Davies & Other Catholics

by:Mario Derksen

The TCR News web site, headed by Stephen Hand, has put up an article entitled "The Fall of Michael Davies." It spreads such serious misinformation about Mr. Davies that I feel it is my duty to speak out on his behalf.

Residing in London, England, Michael Davies is a great Catholic scholar who has spent more time defending the traditional Mass than anyone else. At 673 pages, his book Pope Paul's New Mass is the most comprehensive critique and examination of the new rite of Mass ever produced. He has written countless booklets about the traditional and new rites of Mass, the modernist crisis in the Church and Vatican II. He is the author of at least ten books on these and related topics.His works all reveal a great deal of study and scholarship and point to an extremely keen intellect. His books and booklets are published by Roman Catholic Books, TAN Books, Angelus Press, the Remnant Press, and the Neumann Press.

In no way can Mr. Davies be regarded an extremist. He is very balanced, very sincere and certainly attentive to constructive criticism. If Davies writes or talks about something, you can be sure it's been thought through. Such is my experience of this impressive scholar and his outstanding work for the traditional Catholic movement.

But you don't have to take my word for it. You can buy some of Davies' tapes at Keep The Faith, Inc. and see for yourself (I especially recommend his tape "True and False Obedience"). He is currently the head of the papally-approved Una Voce Federation for a spread of the traditional Mass, and I believe he is friends with Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Holy Office).

Is The Remnant in Schism?

The TCR site opens its case against Michael Davies by noting that he will be a speaker at the "schismatic" Remnant-sponsored forum in October of 2001. The people of the Remnant--most notably Michael J. Matt (the editor), John Vennari, A.S. Guimaraes, and Marian T. Horvat are, according to TCR, "most virulent enemies of the Holy Father." At this point I must make sure everyboyd--especially Mr. Hand and the entire TCR crew--understands that there is such a thing called "slander." You've just witnessed it. Stephen Hand is a former columnist and collaborator with the Remnant newspaper and he is now bitterly opposed to them. Talking to Hand about the Remnant is akin to talking to a former Catholic who is now a Protestant about Catholicism. Former Catholics are generally very hostile towards the faith they have abandoned, and it is nearly impossible to convince them of their error. This is how it is with Stephen Hand. He is bitterly opposed to his former friends and their positions, and it is very difficult to have a reasonable conversation with him about this. To insinuate that the Remnant's columnists or editor are schismatic is absolutely beyond comprehension to me. As a regular reader of the Remnant, I can tell you that these people have nothing but love for the Holy Father--but theirs is true love--a love which criticizes when it must, not a fake love that only affirms whatever the Pope does in order to appear agreeable. There are times, especially in our day and age, when love requires that we oppose whom we love when he does wrong. Was St. Paul full of hate towards St. Peter when he "withstood him to the face"? (Gal 2:11)? Of course not. TCR's case against the individuals affiliated with the Remnant will be evaluated later on in this essay. Schism is a very serious offense and it must not be hurled at anyone lightly. Disobedience does not equal schism. Moreover, not all disobedience is sinful, as St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out many hundreds of years ago.

The fact that Michael Davies will be speaking at a forum sponsored by the Remnant has raised Hand's considerable ire. According to TCR, this is part of the "fall" of Mr. Davies (make sure you read on to see that the accusation of a "fall" on Mr. Davies' part is totally fictitious). By coming to speak at the forum, Davies now joins "a nest of would-be bishops or popes." This inflammatory language is what I refer when I likened Stephen Hand's attitude to that of a former Catholic. He is more hostile to what he left than anyone would be who had never endorsed it before. In a virtual fit, Hand denounces such great defenders of the faith like Gerry Matatics, Thomas E. Woods, Christopher Ferrara, and others. Hand castigates Woods for his youthfulness (ahem, I believe Dr. Woods is nearing his 30's now) and even calls his Harvard-Ph.D. "window dressing" (excuse me, Mr. Hand?); Ferrara is degraded because he opposes a cardinal who "recently went out of his way to reconcile the SSPX" (but of course, the fact that Cardinal. Hoyos has tried to reconcile the SSPX has nothing to do with whether the same cardinal slanders Fr. Gruner, whom Ferrara is defending) and Matatics is called an "evangelist" (in quotes!), as if he were not a true and enormously-gifted evangelist and apologist (you see, Hand can't really crack down on Matatics concerning education, because Matatics knows more than Hand will ever learn).

We Resist You to the Face

TCR is especially upset about Davies' coming to the Remnant forum because some of the Remnant's columnists have recently published a booklet entitled We Resist You to the Face(the title being based on Gal 2:11), addressed to the Holy Father, John Paul II, which raises some serious issues that have plagued (traditional) Catholics for a long time. Fairness ought to require one to read this (fairly short) book for himself in order to analyze what it says and to discern whether it is justified or not. One cannot judge a book by its cover--or title!--but this and some isolated quotes are what Mr. Hand relies on when he tells his readers that the book is a "schismatic manifesto." All I can say is: read it yourself! You can order it from the Remnant Bookstore. [Mr. Hand wrote a response to this, entitled "Traditionalists, Tradition, and Private Judgment," available from The Wanderer, which, however, was carefully dissected and refuted by the Remnant afterwards (read the whole discourse here).]

The same goes for all the people Hand denounces in his essay against Davies. You judge for yourself. The only way you can do that is by reading their writings and/or listening to their tapes. They are excellent. Hand doesn't mention that he was invited to debate the very people he's denounced at the Catholic Restoration Conference earlier this year (2001) in Phoenix, Arizona--an offer which he rejected. Why did he do that? Can he only hide behind his web site? The accusations he makes against these people are very serious.

Hand quotes the following from the book We Resist You to the Face, as "proof" that the authors (M. Matt, AS Guimaraes, J. Vennari, and M.T. Horvat) are schismatic: "In our view a possible future declaration of a sede vacante (the period of time when the Apostolic See is empty, as a consequence of the heresy of the Pope) would take place automatically when the Church would become aware of the gravity of the present day errors and who is responsible for them" (Chapter V, #3; p.56). The part Hand didn't quote follows right after: "Should such a situation not become public or notorious, the declaration of the aforementioned judgment would fall to future Pontiffs [Popes]" (ibid.). Both of these quotes are written under the heading "What this action [the resistance] does not imply" and are immediately preceded by the words "The desire to declare that the Apostolic See is vacant," i.e. their resistance does not imply this.

Make sure you read at least Michael Matt's defense of his co-authored work We Resist You to the Face against the different charges, especially the charge of "schism."

The authors of the work We Resist You to the Face are not sedevacantists, that is, they do not believe that John Paul II is not our Pope. In fact, it would be quite absurd to write him such a lengthy letter, all the while maintaining that he's not the Pope anyway. What good would it do to express their impossibility to reconcile some of his actions and teachings with Catholic truth? The authors are appealing to him precisely because he is the Pope! The Remnant issues of September 15 and 30, 2001, by the way, have a lengthy article in them written by Fr. Brian Harrison, O.S., denouncing sedevacantism.

Now on to TCR's charge that We Resist You to the Face is a schismatic work. Hand quotes an unnamed source (very scholarly!) as saying: "....canon 752 defines schism as 'the withdrawal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or from communion with the members of the Church subject to him.' What one must note here is that the canon does not distinguish between degrees of withdrawal of submission to the Roman Pontiff. In other words, one need not completely withdraw one's obedience to the Roman Pontiff in order to enter into a state of schism...."

First off, Canon 752 is not a full-fledged treatment of schism. It merely provides a definition. In fact, I couldn't find an exhaustive treatment of schism in the entire Code. The question at issue here is what it means to withdraw submission from the Supreme Pontiff, the Pope. What characterizes such withdrawal? When does mere disobedience become schismatic? The Code doesn't say. But one thing is clear: suspending obedience is not the same as withdrawing submission. Case in point: Archbishop Thuc. Archbishop Thuc was a schismatic because he no longer recognized the Pope's authority, believing the See of Peter to be vacant and hence withdrawing submission from Pope John Paul II. On the other hand, Archbishop Lefebvre and many other Catholics have seen themselves forced to withdraw obedience in certain matters which, despite pleas to the Holy Father, they are unable to reconcile with what was taught in the Church consistently until the death of Pope Pius XII. These people do not deny that John Paul II is the Pope and therefore do not withdraw their submission; they merely feel themselves forced to choose between the traditional Faith and what at least appears to be novel teachings from John Paul II (A.S. Guimaraes wrote a lengthy letter to the Holy Father asking for direction and clarification, which, of course, went unanswered). Since it is possible that a Pope should teach novelties without violating the divine precept of the indefectibility of the Church, there is no reason to insist that traditional Catholics are committing sin or are even embracing a state of schism if they find themselves in resistance with such novel teachings. Such is the difference between suspending obedience and withdrawing submission. The one who withdraws submission says that Karol Wojtyla no longer has any authority over him andthat he is not the Pope. The one suspending obedience says, "Holy Father, there's just no way I can reconcile what you've been saying and doing with the perennial principles of Catholic Tradition." The child who says to his mother, "I won't!" does not deny she is his mother.

In any case, let me appeal to you again to read the entire book We Resist You to the Face (incl. its enlightening appendices, which make some points clearer) yourself before making a judgment about whether the authors are guilty of what TCR accuses them of.

Of Slander and Pseudo-Scholarship

TCR's article continues:

    "These men are far from theologically objective and sober; they are propagandists who sift polls for proof and the Council and Pope's teachings for proof-texts seeking to frame and maintain their parallel magisterium, based on an absurd new twist on an old heresy with new twists, sola traditio, wherein they demand that doctrinal development, as we have it in the Council, stop when they say it must (Trent or Pius X, Pius XII, it depends who you ask ), just as the Nestorians, Orthodox, Copts, and others set the mark at other historical points, tragically sundering the universal Church in many areas of the world. But while the latter are theologically informed and more serious, Davies' friends are theologically untrained in Catholic orthodoxy, laymen who now make a living by beguiling the widow of her mite under a pretext of piety and cynically selective quotes."

This is absolutely ridiculous! If his opponents were really mean, I imagine they could sue Stephen Hand for such character assassination. I don't think I have ever seen this much ad hominem, totally unsubstantiated with no reason given by Hand to believe this is true. Mr. Hand knows--should know--better than this! Everyone who disagrees with him is now a "propagandist" (what an empty term!) with "a pretext of piety" (the common term is "hypocritical") and "theologically untrained," having "anachronistic Gothic, Baroque, Tridentine daydreams." At least ever since his defection from the traditional Faith, Stephen Hand has loved to use fancy-sounding terminology. I will not speculate as to why he likes to style his articles with such terms, but they certainly don't add an iota of scholarship to what he writes. He was invited to debate traditionalism at the Catholic Restoration Conference '01 and didn't accept; he likes to hide behind his computer screen, preferring to hurl defamatory comments at those who disagree with him. In principle, there is nothing wrong with not wishing to engage in live debates (I don't like that myself either), as long as you can make a coherent case against your opponent and refrain from throwing unnecessary defamatory language at him. Instead of making vague general accusations against his former traditionalist friends, Hand should simply put up articles that, very methodically (a la the Summa Theologica) first quote his opponents' assertions and then disprove them with his counter-evidence. That is a concrete way of debating. That is a fair and honest way, and a format that people can appreciate and understand. Yet Hand chooses to simply make gratuitous assertions, which can be, of course, quite as gratuitously denied. He does this also when it comes to Una Voce, the papally-approved organization, and Bill Basile, who is, to my knowledge, the web master of http://www.diocesereport.com/myview/www.unavoce.org Will it ever change? Who knows.....

In the meantime, I'll tell you one thing:

The only way for you to know whether TCR is right or the people being attacked (Davies, Matt, Guimaraes, Woods, Ferrara, etc.) are, listen to their tapes and read their books. These people do not harp on their intellectual achievements. They present evidence, arguments and a conclusion. That's what counts. Age doesn't matter, degrees don't matter, any other background doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is whether their arguments support their conclusions. And that this is so was wonderfully demonstrated by the Remnant's fight with the Wanderer about Stephen Hand's accusations.

Further along in his essay against Michael Davies and other traditionalists, Hand takes some more general shots at Davies, which again, are completely gratuitous and without backup. Funny how, when talking about people like Woods or Matt, Hand attacks their "youth" (as if that had anything to do with their traditionalism), but when it comes to Davies, all of a sudden it's the "mentor" (Lefebvre) that accounts for his stance, not the age. It stands to reason--Hand being younger than Davies, he can't use the "youth" argument. It seems that when a traditionalist is young, Hand will use that against him, as opposed to being consistent and castigating those who disagree with him on the basis of a lack of evidence or a misunderstanding of Catholicism on their part (or whatever else Hand thinks he could bring forward against them).

Michael Davies, the SSPX, and the Imaginary "Fall"

Of course Hand mentions Michael Davies' connections to the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), though Davies has distanced himself a bit since Fr. Scott, with his extreme views, has taken over the role of District Superior in the United States. Michael Davies has many of his books and booklets published or distributed by Angelus Press, the house publisher of the SSPX, and has defended Archbishop Lefebvre in three volumes (whose content ranges from 1905-1982). On the other hand, Davies has argued against Fr. Scott that the new rite of Mass is not, and cannot be, intrinsically evil (see The Great Debate of '98, available from the Remnant Bookstore), and has written the book I Am With You Always, exposing seven errors common in traditionalist circles that we must refrain from falling into (one of them being sedevacantism).

The point: Michael Davies is a man interested in truth. If he were interested in being in agreement with the SSPX, he would not have opposed Fr. Scott on the status of the new Mass. If he were interested in being in agreement with all of his fellow traditionalists, he would not now be opposing A.S. Guimaraes in the Remnant about the status of the Vatican document Dominus Iesus. I have experienced Michael Davies in his writings, on audio tape, and on video tape. To me, there is no question that this man loves truth. Sometimes, we all know, truth is convenient--but usually it is not. This being said, it is clear to me that if Davies does not renounce something he's written before, it is because he still endorses it. This seems incomprehensible to Stephen Hand, who points out that Davies still hasn't recanted his previous positions (TCR calls them "errors"). But why would he, if he still endorses the same positions? TCR betrays the belief that somehow, somewhere along the way, Davies changed his positions. Otherwise, it makes no sense for them to wonder why he hasn't yet stopped publication of his books by Angelus Press and such like. Yet, at the same time and quite ironically, TCR answers its own question by maintaining that Davies "has been steadfast in the errors of Lefebvrism." AH! So if that's the case, why be surprised that he has now joined "a nest of would-be bishops or popes"? Why the surprise that Davies has not broken with the SSPX? In fact, why even describe the whole article as a "FALL" of Michael Davies, if he's been espousing the same positions for decades now? A "fall" implies a fall from something. In this context, one would suppose this to be a fall from orthodoxy. But according to TCR, Davies never was orthodox to begin with! He's been writing for the Remnant since 1972! Why then, does TCR make it seem like his association with the Remnant is something new?

Something is fishy here. The fact of the matter is that Michael Davies is not espousing any errors. His positions are thought through and orthodox. Mr. Davies is the first one to be happy to address any scholarly criticism one might have against what he says. I suspect that if Stephen Hand were willing to write a letter to Davies challenging his views, Mr. Davies would respond, and the Remnant would probably be happy to print the exchanges. Deal, Mr. Hand?

We can now move to the final part I wish to address: the debate Davies had with E. Michael Jones.

Michael Davies vs. E. Michael Jones in '93: Is the SSPX in Schism?

In 1993, Michael Davies and E. Michael Jones debated whether the Society of St. Pius X is in schism due to the unlawful episcopal consecrations of Archbishop Lefebvre on June 30, 1988. Mr. Jones said YES; Mr. Davies argued NO. I was fortunate enough to watch this debate on video tape not too long ago. It is loaded with fireworks. I believe it was evidently clear that Mr. Davies presented a more compelling case. This doesn't mean, necessarily, that Davies' side is right, but at least that Jones was not as good as arguing his side as Davies was arguing his. Nevertheless, Jones wrote a follow-up article, posted on the same page at TCR attacking Michael Davies, entitled "How I Won the Debate (with Michael Davies)." Now, I ask you: when a debater needs to compose an entire article explaining how he won a debate, doesn't this imply an admission of defeat? It seems Jones needed to write this because it was not at all obvious at the time of the debate that he had the better case. And indeed, it wasn't. Michael Davies rested his case right there. He didn't need to explain to people whether or how he won the debate--it was obvious for all to see that he did.

I won't go through Jones' essay now. I think Davies pretty much said everything that needed to be said in that debate. The facts, I am thoroughly convinced, are on the side of Mr. Davies.

To their credit, TCR appends a few things by Michael Davies to their critique of him (for which reason, I think, Jones' work was entirely misplaced there). Read them. Better yet, read Davies' books and booklets. And make up your own mind. I, for one, could not stand by silently as Davies was unjustly attacked. There is no "fall" of Davies after all.

Mario Derksen publishes a website called Mario Derksen's Catholic Insight. Comments can be sent to:mario@cathinsight.com

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