A New Catholic's Problems Regarding Traditionalism

A man who by God's grace recently left a sect wrote asking some legitimate and pointed questions about Traditional Catholicism. After recommending the works of Michael Davies to him I tried to briefly address his concerns in broad strokes and reproduce it here since it may be instructive for others with similar questions. What follows are his questions and a brief reply. A few minor changes have been made to my original reply as clarifications for others.--- S.Hand

Dear Mr. Hand:

Thank you for your encouraging note. It was extremely welcome. Thank you also for even taking the time to respond, since I know you must be extremly busy. I have called and asked for the Remnant catalogue and intend to order the two books by Davies you recommended.

You may well regard it as foolish and premature on my part (fools rush in...) but after reading the material at a number of Traditionalist sites I have prepared a short list of issues that I was intending on sending to the various addresses in the arrogant presumption that one or more of them would feel like answering questions that are probably already answered in books they have already read (or written) ;-)

I will attach a copy of these questions below, but I will by no means feel slighted if you don't have time to respond or only have time to respond with "Read the books... like I said the FIRST time". You have already been most kind and I don't mean to presume upon that. Anyhow, for your own amusement or frustration, here was the note I was sending out: (a bit of it is redundant of my first letter)

Here are the areas of difficulty:

1. The Magisterium. One of the reasons I accepted Catholicism was that I came to the conclusion that I was not capable of coming to the fullness of religious truth through my own private judgement. If the learned Protestant doctors and scripture scholars couldn't resolve fundamental issues by an appeal to scripture and private judgement, how could I? I was ready to submit my judgement to a Magisterium guided by the Holy Spirit. It seems, however, that (at least in spirit) I am being asked to engage in the same kind of "private judgement" by the Traditionalist movement. I am being asked to suppose that Popes and Cardinals and Bishops, in attempting to exercise their office, are frequently (whether intentionally or not) misleading the Church. What good is a Magisterium if I have to constantly scrutinize its pronouncements according to my own judgement?

2. "Remnant" mentality. On of the views in Protestantism that always offended my sense of logic was the notion that God would allow the vast majority of all Christians during the last two millennia to live and die with only an apostate (ie Catholic) version of Christianity who's power to save their souls was doubtful. Only a small remnant (which remnant depended on which sect was speaking at the moment) of elite Christians actually had the truth and would be saved. Could God really be that uncharitable? But this seems very similar to the conclusion of Traditionalist thought. The Mass that millions rely on for sacramental value may (or may not - depending on the Traditionalist) be formally valid, but in any case, it is a spiritual travesty, dangerous to the faith, as are some of the non-dogmatic teachings of the Pope, the Catechism, etc. Only a small remnant of the faithful are REALLY in the know. Is God really this (apparently) uncharitable? And the smaller the club this puts us in, the more I begin to have etc. By throwing the issue back to private judgement, haven't we unloosed the floodgates?

3. Evangelism. Lastly, as a simply matter of pragmatism, I'm going to have a rough time as a Traditionalist working up the enthusiasm for sharing Catholicism with my friends when I know what's in store for them when they convert. It's like recruiting friends for the Russian front. They will very soon (if left under my influence at all) find themselves in a civil and religious war, where the parish priest might be working for the enemy and the RCIA class that is supposed to catechize them must be fought tooth and nail. Against this bitter prospect, all I can offer them is the observation of Newman, "What is that compared to one Holy Mass?" True, but less comforting when even the execution of the Mass can become an obstacle to holiness...

Now perhaps all this is just cowardice on my part. And I freely admit that if the Traditionalist position is true, then none of this really matters in the long run. So what if the truth makes life difficult? The truth is still the truth. Perhaps I am just lazily wishing that after conversion to Catholicism, I could rest my mind and my soul a bit and leave theological conflict to my betters. Instead, I find myself living out the old Arab curse, "May you live in interesting times!"

In any case, I would appreciate any and all comments any of you have time to offer on any of these issues. I have a strong feeling that God is calling me to seriously consider this issue, and the fewer doubts I have about it, the better. Yours, for the greater glory of God,

Stephen Hand replies:

Dear ______

Your honest inquiries are both important and show your love of truth. Yes, you anticipated my answer about reading Michael Davies since he, among others, most directly answers some of the questions that concern you.

I will say in the meantime, however, that inherent in the biblical and patristic understanding of Salvation History is the notion of eschatology, that time runs according to God's Providence and towards the climax of history as He has foretold it. All Church fathers, following the Holy Scriptures and Tradition, spoke of an apostasy to come (Cf Lk 18:8; 2 Thess chap 2, etc.). And in that apostasy the wolves will pretend to be sheep, angels of Light.

This apostasy will necessitate the measuring of any NEW teachings which purport to be magisterial against what Catholics have always believed everywhere and in the same sense and meaning. Only novelty is to be rejected. It is a de fide teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that neither Pope nor saint nor any Catholic can change or invent new teachings. Since new teachings abound today, clearly, coincident with the corruption of the Holy Mass, and the demise of Faith in unprecedented proportions, Catholics must consider whether that apostasy is upon us and, if so, tie ourselves to the Ship lest we be thrown overboard in the tempest. One good man said the great Apostasy is either upon us now or we are in a dress rehearsal! Quite precisely. But regardless of whether this is the Great Apostasy or not----whether it is here, near, or far off---- Catholics must be vigiliant when it comes to guarding the Deposit of Faith always. In any apostasy Catholics must act. Yes, it complicates evangelism for, as you say, the Russian front is hardly desirable. But our Lord said the time would come one day when the only real analogy would be to the days of Noah. When the concilar Popes contradict the plain teachings of their predecssors we have a scandal which cannot be ignored and must be repaired.

I suspect that because you come out of sectarian experience (the fringes of even Protestantism) you are very sensitive about notions like "Remnant" which these abused. However, you must remember this is first a biblical and also a patristic concept which applies to the Church which will be left when the apostasy wreaks its havoc. It is not a case of another, rival, Church pitting itself against the Catholic Church but of the Catholic Faithful refusing to surrender the Faith to novelties! Remember, traditional Catholics are only determined to cling to the Faith which all Popes in all centuries prior to the Second Vatican Council said could not ever change without detriment to salvation. Nothing more. Today the Faith is being corrupted by false and novel views of ecumenism, Teilhardian and other forms of evolutionism, exaggerated collegiality, deviant Christologies, biblical criticism, etc. Incredible but true. This is the sorrowful uniqueness of our times and why many think it may very well be the time of the Great Apostasy. Be that as it may, St. Vincent of Lerins in the 5th century said that when confusion and heresy abounds, cling to Tradition which keeps us perfectly secure since it is the Faith which cannot change. Circles cannot be squared and the Faith cannot evolve. Read also Pope Pius X's Encyclical on Modernism which especially condemns this notion of evolving truth. Unlike the self-evidently false Protestant teaching of the so-called perspicuity of Scripture, Tradition consists of what was believed everywhere "in the same sense and meaning" by the whole Church in every age until the Second Vatican Council. Every cathechism, every saint, doctor, child and Pope bore witness to it. The Mass encaspsulated it sublimely, lex orandi, lex credendi. There was no quest to discover Tradition or the Church. The Church---and its Tradition--- was the eternal obvious. Especially to her enemies.

Traditionalists are the Catholics most loyal to the Holy Father since we know that all forms of modernism can only destroy the papacy and cut off the branch we are ultimately all perched upon. Those who would presume, however, to pre-judge the juridical status or even depose the Conciliar Popes usurp the prerogatives of the Church. One day a Restorer Pope and/or Council will mend the breaches. Our job is to confess the Faith, not to usurp the prerogatives of a Restored magisterium.

As for how God will reach so many who understand so little of all this, even within Catholicism, this has always been a problem to finite intellects. As Catholics we must trust in God's mercy and grace which changes us from the old man to the new. If we trust ourselves we are surely lost. Being a Traditional Catholic is no proof we will be saved. We can only trust God's mercy and His justice and be completely confident that he does "not desire the death of the wicked" and that He knows how to lead men of good will to His Kingdom even in such times. There were two men crucified next to our Lord. One was saved, so that none need ever despair; but only one, so that none dare presume.

Do get Mr. Davies books (Pope John's Council and Pope Paul's New Mass) ASAP. He comes out of Protestantism himself and examines some of these issues in the best introductory yet thorough way available in these substantive and lengthy volumes.

Sincerely in Christ,

Stephen Hand