Is Historical Catholicism
Chris Ferrara is not making my life easy. His column in the August 31 issue of The Remnant, in my opinion, could be the best and most systematic essay in defense of the traditionalist position ever written. That’s quite a statement, I realize, but it is one that I told him over the phone in the wee hours of August 18 as we discussed the piece together. I am now more confident than ever that this whole exchange, instigated by Stephen Hand and The Wanderer, will increase our ranks considerably. I don’t expect the willfully blind to be persuaded, but I do expect many, many conservative Catholics of good will to see that our position is not only not the font of pure evil that Hand’s caricature would suggest, but is in fact the only sensible and persuasive approach to the greatest crisis that has ever befallen the Bride of Christ.
Before delving into the substance of my final installment, I would like to dispense briefly with just one of Stephen Hand’s criticisms of my first piece that he expressed in an email screed to his TCR list. On the matter of discipline, Hand seems to be having difficulty deciding between two positions: either that ecclesiastical discipline wasn’t really so tough in the old days after all, or that the strict discipline of the old days would be inappropriate to present circumstances. Well, which is it?
In an email message to his friends in reply to my first article, Hand tells us that even Pope St. Pius X, after all, didn’t excommunicate wave upon wave of Modernists. He wrote this even after I had reminded him in personal correspondence that of course there are disciplinary measures short of excommunication to which the Pope could and did have recourse. A recent history of Modernism notes that quite contrary to Hand’s suggestion, “[t]he disciplinary regime laid down in the final section of Pascendi—nearly 20 percent of the whole text—was extremely detailed and rigorous.” Thus in Pascendi Dominici Gregis, St. Pius X’s encyclical against Modernism, the Pope recommends that vigilance committees be established in every diocese to guard against the spread of Modernism, and that the year following the issuance of the encyclical, and every three years thereafter, every bishop report to Rome on the progress of his efforts to eliminate this heresy. Pius X’s instructions to the bishops in Pascendi deserve to be quoted at unusual length:
But of what avail, Venerable Brethren, will be all Our commands and prescriptions if they be not dutifully and firmly carried out? In order that this may be done it has seemed expedient to us to extend to all dioceses the regulations which the Bishops of Umbria, with great wisdom, laid down for theirs many years ago. “In order,” they say, “to extirpate the errors already propagated and to prevent their further diffusion, and to remove those teachers of impiety through whom the pernicious effects of such diffusion are being perpetuated, this sacred Assembly, following the example of St. Charles Borromeo, has decided to establish in each of the dioceses a Council consisting of approved members of both branches of the clergy, which shall be charged with the task of noting the existence of errors and the devices by which new ones are introduced and propagated, and to inform the Bishop of the whole, so that he may take counsel with them as to the best means for suppressing the evil at the outset and preventing it spreading for the ruin of souls or, worse still, gaining strength and growth.” We decree, therefore, that in every diocese a council of this kind, which We are pleased to name the “Council of Vigilance,” be instituted without delay. The priests called to form part in it shall be chosen somewhat after the manner above prescribed for the censors, and they shall meet every two months on an appointed day in the presence of the Bishop. They shall be bound to secrecy as to their deliberations and decisions, and in their functions shall be included the following: they shall watch most carefully for every trace and sign of Modernism both in publications and in teaching, and to preserve the clergy and the young from it they shall take all prudent, prompt, and efficacious measures. Let them combat novelties of words, remembering the admonitions of Leo XIII: “It is impossible to approve in Catholic publications a style inspired by unsound novelty which seems to deride the piety of the faithful and dwells on the introduction of a new order of Christian life, on new directions of the Church, on new aspirations of the modern soul, on a new social vocation of the clergy, on a new Christian civilization, and many other things of the same kind.” Language of the kind here indicated is not to be tolerated either in books or in lectures.
We order that you do everything in your power to drive out of your dioceses, even by solemn interdict, any pernicious books that may be in circulation there. The Holy See neglects no means to remove writings of this kind, but their number has now grown to such an extent that it is hardly possible to subject them all to censure. Hence it happens sometimes that the remedy arrives too late, for the disease has taken root during the delay. We will, therefore, that the Bishops putting aside all fear and the prudence of the flesh, despising the clamor of evil men, shall, gently, by all means, but firmly, do each his own part in this work, remembering the injunctions of Leo XIII in the Apostolic Constitution Officiorum: “Let the Ordinaries, acting in this also as Delegates of the Apostolic See, exert themselves to proscribe and to put out of reach of the faithful injurious books or other writings printed or circulated in their dioceses.” In this passage the Bishops, it is true, receive an authorization, but they have also a charge laid upon them. Let no Bishop think that he fulfills his duty by denouncing to Us one or two books, while a great many others of the same kind are being published and circulated. Nor are you to be deterred by the fact that a book has obtained elsewhere the permission which is commonly called the Imprimatur, both because this may be merely simulated, and because it may have been granted through carelessness or too much indulgence or excessive trust placed in the author, which last has perhaps sometimes happened in the religious orders. Besides, just as the same food does not agree with everyone, it may happen that a book, harmless in one place, may, on account of the different circumstances, be hurtful in another. Should a Bishop, therefore, after having taken the advice of prudent persons, deem it right to condemn any of such books in his diocese, We give him ample faculty for the purpose and We lay upon him the obligation of doing so. Let all this be done in a fitting manner, and in certain cases it will suffice to restrict the prohibition to the clergy; but in all cases it will be obligatory on Catholic booksellers not to put on sale books condemned by the Bishop. And while We are treating of this subject, We wish the Bishops to see to it that booksellers do not, through desire for gain, engage in evil trade. It is certain that in the catalogs of some of them the books of the Modernists are not infrequently announced with no small praise. If they refuse obedience, let the Bishops, after due admonition, have no hesitation in depriving them of the title of Catholic booksellers. This applies, and with still more reason, to those who have the title of Episcopal booksellers. If they have that of Pontifical booksellers, let them be denounced to the Apostolic See.
Such measures are inadequate in themselves, writes St. Pius X: “It is not enough to hinder the reading and the sale of bad books—it is also necessary to prevent them from being published. Hence, let the Bishops use the utmost strictness in granting permission to print.” There is also the matter of periodicals:
With regard to priests who are correspondents or collaborators of periodicals, as it happens not infrequently that they contribute matter infected with Modernism to their papers or periodicals, let the Bishops see to it that they do not offend in this manner; and if they do, let them warn the offenders and prevent them from writing. We solemnly charge in like manner the superiors of religious orders that they fulfill the same duty, and should they fail in it, let the Bishops make due provision with authority from the Supreme Pontiff. Let there be, as far as this is possible, a special censor for newspapers and periodicals written by Catholics. It shall be his office to read in due time each number after it has been published, and if he find anything dangerous in it let him order that it be corrected as soon as possible. The Bishop shall have the same right even when the censor has seen nothing objectionable in a publication.
It is true that St. Pius X did not excommunicate many people. But could any honest person, when discussing St. Pius X’s disciplinary program, simply leave the matter at that and make no mention of any of the measures cited here? What grade would we assign to a student writing a paper on Pascendi whose conclusion, after reading the above, was simply, “St. Pius X didn’t excommunicate many people”? To call this an extremely misleading summary would be about the least one could say about it. To no one’s surprise, however, this is precisely Hand’s summary. He makes no mention whatever of any of the disciplinary action outlined here. I know he knows about all this—since I told him myself—so what, apart from a deliberate attempt to deceive, can account for his persistence in repeating this laughably misleading description of the campaign against Modernism?
The “conservatives” always have some contrived explanation as to why in the present situation Rome’s mystifying failure to govern the Church is actually an act of genius. They are deftly avoiding the emergence of a schism, the conservatives tell us. To this claim, which is always advanced with no real evidence behind it, I ask the following: If the Pope is really serious about reforming the Church, why does he appoint so many liberals? To this the conservatives will reply by pointing to the appointment of the likes of Cardinal Francis George, an excellent example of a churchman whose behavior would have caused an international uproar before the Council but who, by the conservatives’ absurdly low standards, is now considered downright heroic. Sometimes, though, conservatives will argue that the Pope doesn’t really have much influence over the appointment of bishops. We have witnessed, therefore, the construction of an impenetrable, non-falsifiable edifice of excuses, to which the “conservatives” have ceaseless and tiresome recourse. But surely the Pope has had some say in at least a few of these appointments, don’t you think? And yet it is safe to say, using Cardinal Ottaviani as a benchmark, that in the college of cardinals there is not a single conservative. (Cardinal Stickler is the exception, though he lost his right to vote in the conclave when he turned 80.) If there is any plausibility left in the claim that the Pope would love to reform things but is afraid he’d bring on a schism, it vanishes when we remember that, as we shall see below in the discussion on ecumenism, it is in large part his very own initiatives that need to be reformed.
In short, we will know when we have a Pope who is serious about reversing the disaster of the past thirty-five years. He is not here yet.
We have plenty of examples of brave popes who used all the force at their disposal to vindicate traditional Catholicism. Consider the position of Pope St. Gregory VII (1073-85). The Church was in desperate need of reform in his day. Simony was rampant and clerical celibacy had been all but abandoned. When Gregory moved to reinstate Church tradition he was met with demonstrations of priests across Europe threatening to resist the Pope forever rather than relinquish their wives. The overwhelming majority of German bishops opposed him. But he did not back down. In fact, he became more aggressive still, going so far as to excommunicate Henry IV. It occurred to him that the reason he was having such difficulty implementing his reform program was that so much of the practical authority of naming and investing bishops had passed into the hands of the state. If he were to have any hope of achieving real reform, he had to reclaim the Holy See’s critical prerogative of naming bishops. For centuries, the bishops’ literacy and administrative talent had been tapped by kings and the emperor to perform temporal duties around the realm. Sympathetic bishops were considered essential to the lay monarch not only for what they could do in the area of administration, but also for serving to check upstart nobles who were always seeking to undermine the king’s position. The suggestion that the power to invest such bishops ought to be taken from him struck Henry IV as the height of insanity. Gregory knew he faced opposition of a kind that modern popes can scarcely imagine. Yet he did what was right, and although he did not live to see ultimate victory, which came a generation later, his fearlessness vastly increased the prestige of the papacy and set the Church on the road to the independence she needed to carry out her supernatural mission.
Hand’s Wanderer series devotes considerable space to a quite illegitimate appeal to the precedent of the Great Western Schism of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as an alleged example of the unintended damage that can be done when a Pope is too vigorous in pressing the cause of reform. This is supposed to make us feel impertinent for so much as suggesting that papal vigor might be the recipe for the current crisis. But the incident reveals nothing of the kind. For a variety of reasons, during the period from 1305-1378 the papacy resided not in Rome but in Avignon. Shortly after returning the papacy to Rome in 1378, Pope Gregory XI died. During the Avignon papacy, naturally, the French presence within the sacred college had grown enormously, consisting now of ninety Frenchmen, fourteen Italians, five Spaniards, and one Englishman. When the conclave to elect a successor to Gregory XI was summoned, the assembled cardinals deliberated amid the sounds of uproar and tumult outside. The local population wanted some kind of assurance that the papacy would not once again move to Avignon; what they wanted, therefore, was a Roman pope, or at the very least an Italian. At one point part of the mob managed to break into the conclave itself and demand that a Roman be elected. The conclave was also interrupted more than once by rocks being thrown through the windows and the sound of axes striking the doors.
At last Bartholomew Prignani (an Italian though not a Roman) was elected, taking the name Urban VI. He moved vigorously against corruption and worldliness among churchmen—as had other popes in the past, without incident. Urban, however, upon assuming the papal office, began acting in an extremely peculiar and belligerent way, quite uncharacteristic of the temperate Prignani the cardinals had known. We have testimony to the effect that he began publicly insulting his cardinals, even striking one. Cardinals appearing before him on standard Church business were violently denounced. Significantly, he told the French cardinals that he intended to add so many Italians to the sacred college that French influence would dwindle to nothingness—doubtless alarming to a French cardinalate that had grown accustomed to its newfound dominance. But he so alienated his cardinals through his abusive behavior that every single one of them, Frenchman and non-Frenchman alike, assembled in a second conclave to elect a new pope. In fact, it was seriously suggested not only by cardinals at the time but even today by quite a broad range of historians that his unexpected elevation to the papacy had rendered Prignani mentally unbalanced, even insane.
It was in this context, then, that the cardinals’ decision to declare the original election nullified, having taken place under duress, and to elect a new pope must be understood. As Msgr. Hughes notes, “Had Urban shown ordinary tact and prudence there would never—it seems certain—have been the second conclave and the election of 1378….” If the Western Schism had really been a simple case of a vigorous pro-reform party leading to the walkout of a party of corruption, then why didn’t all the saints favor the Roman (that is, pro-reform, anti-corruption) line of popes? Are we going to suggest that some saints favored worldliness and corruption, the accusation Urban VI hurled at the cardinals? St. Catherine of Siena, St. Catherine of Sweden, Bl. Peter of Aragon, and Bl. Ursulina of Parma sided with Urban, it is true, but St. Vincent Ferrer, Bl. Peter of Luxemburg, and St. Colette all sided with Clement. The Western Schism was an extraordinarily complex event in which a variety of factors unique to that episode played a part—of which French-Italian rivalry within the episcopate, the apparent mental imbalance of Urban VI, and the unusual circumstances of the first conclave are but a few. It obviously cannot be used, as Hand is so desperate to do, to make a sweeping point about the alleged dangers of papal vigor—especially since papal vigor was quite successful when pursued by the non-insane St. Gregory VII and St. Pius X, to name two. Yet again Hand’s historical references are seen to possess all the substance of cotton candy.
Pitting Popes Against Popes
A frequent complaint by Hand is that we traditionalists “pit one Pope against another.” I confess that I do not see what is wrong with that. The fact is, popes have differed, and sometimes on fairly significant matters. This does not necessarily make one a heretic and the other an angel, which is how Hand insists on interpreting our position. It does mean, however, that one may have been right and the other wrong.
Let us take as an example Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604), one of the most celebrated and revered pontiffs in Church history. His accomplishments were manifold: he arranged for the evangelization of Britain, he codified the chant that bears his name, he stared down the ravaging Lombards and provided for the sick and hungry of Rome. At the same time, it is a fact that he was part of that minority of churchmen who subjected philosophers to withering ridicule and were extremely critical of efforts to synthesize the wisdom of Greek philosophy with the data of divine revelation. In the second century, St. Justin Martyr had used the term “seeds of the Word” to describe the truths that the Greeks, living before Christ, had been able to discover. As Justin saw the matter, it was as though God had prepared the intellectual terrain for the coming of His Son. This intellectual project was carried on by some of the Church’s brightest lights: Clement of Alexandria, St. Augustine, the Cappadocian Fathers (St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory Nazianzen), and countless others, culminating in the extraordinary philosophical edifice constructed by St. Thomas Aquinas. The angry claim of the likes of Tertullian and Hippolytus that such a synthesis was both pointless and dangerous loses its force when we recall that it was they themselves, and not those Church Fathers who were eager to mine the wisdom of the Greeks, who ultimately fell into heresy. (St. Hippolytus, as we know, died reconciled.)
Now this is an issue of extraordinary significance and import. It is at least as important as ecumenism and some of the other matters regarding which traditionalists have been critical of the present regime. Yes, I suppose I am “pitting one Pope against another” when I say that Pope St. Gregory the Great, however much we may (rightly) venerate him for his extraordinary accomplishments and personal holiness, was gravely mistaken on this issue and that Pope Leo XIII, to choose just one example, was absolutely correct (cf. Aeterni Patris, 1879). So what? In suggesting that “pitting one Pope against another” is an automatic sign of schism or heresy or whatever, Hand is deliberately stacking the deck against us, ruling out much of our evidence in advance. A neat trick. But I have no intention of playing by Hand’s arbitrary rules, especially since, as the Gregory the Great example reveals so strikingly, they require that we ignore Church history. Hand can block his ears and scream all he wants, but the facts remain unchanged.
I turn now to the topic of ecumenism, which is the subject of Hand’s sixth chapter. Hand will brook no criticism of ecumenism. Sure, some priests doubtless go too far, but Rome’s program is unobjectionable. In one of his mass-mailed email commentaries that I continue to ask him not to send me, Hand called me a Pharisee for expressing my objections to it.
At least one bishop, however, agrees that we have a right to be heard:
There are people who in the face of the difficulties or because they consider that the first ecumenical endeavors have brought negative results would have liked to turn back. Some even express the opinion that these efforts are harmful to the cause of the Gospel, are leading to a further rupture in the Church, are causing confusion of ideas in questions of faith and morals and are ending up with a specific indifferentism. It is perhaps a good thing that the spokesmen for these opinions should express their fears.
This bishop is Pope John Paul II in his inaugural encyclical, Redemptor Hominis (1979). It is true that the Pope went on to say that he considered such fears to be misplaced. But it’s also fairly significant that “it is perhaps a good thing” that traditionalists “should express their fears.” Thus Hand is dissenting from papal teaching on our right to criticize ecumenism, revealing himself to be a rigorist of sorts—though only when it comes to defending innovations.
Hand also argues that Pius XI’s encyclical Mortalium Animos (1928), which forbade Catholics to participate in the ecumenical movement of the day, condemned only “indifferentist ecumenism” (whatever that may mean), and is therefore quite compatible with the ceaseless ecumenical gatherings and common prayer meetings of the past thirty-five years. This is simply false. Absolutely nothing in the document would lead an impartial observer to such a conclusion. The fact is, though, that even on these grounds Hand’s argument fails, since the major ecumenical initiatives of recent years have all been indifferentist.
Before examining a few of these, it should be noted that as usual, Hand gives us not a single concrete example of a successful post-Conciliar ecumenical initiative. He mentions the Orthodox but (to no one’s surprise) says nothing about the scandalous Balamand Statement of 1993, more on which below. He says nothing about the encouragement of joint worship with non-Catholics, which is indeed quite unprecedented. His entire chapter on ecumenism, in fact, is a series of vapid generalizations about the need to go after the straying sheep, as if the conversions brought about one at a time by individual evangelists were not already an example of this.
Ecumenical relations with the Anglicans provide a good first example. In 1966 Pope Paul VI and the Archbishop of Canterbury officially opened channels for dialogue between Catholics and Anglicans. Toward this end, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) was established. Over the course of the 1970s this body drew up so-called “Agreed Statements” on the Eucharist, ministry, and authority. Anyone familiar with the liturgical changes that brought us the new Mass would recognize in these “Agreed Statements” the same kind of equivocation regarding sacrifice, the priesthood, and other such issues that seem to be present in parts of the new rite. (The whole story is told in Michael Davies’ book The Order of Melchisedech.) These dreadful and apparently deliberate ambiguities were ultimately repudiated by Rome in the early 1990s. This is to be welcomed. But do we draw any lessons from this? Perhaps the crisis in the Church is grave enough that the restoration of order within Catholicism itself must take precedence over ecumenical initiatives, if only because, as we have seen time and again, the very liberalism that is destroying the Church is also, in the realm of ecumenism, producing distinctly unhelpful and ludicrously ambiguous joint statements. We need to get our own house in order, remembering that charity begins at home. In the meantime, as far as non-Catholics are concerned, there’s always the old-fashioned way of missionary work and individual conversion. That used to work pretty well.
Regarding the Orthodox, the Vatican is actively discouraging proselytism. All of a sudden it turns out that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches are “Sister Churches, responsible together for maintaining the Church of God”—which apparently is something other than the Catholic Church. This quotation comes from the Balamand Statement of 1993, drawn up under the auspices of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. The Vatican’s Cardinal Edward Cassidy, who heads the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, was part of this commission. The relevant passage goes on: “To pave the way for future relations between the two churches, passing beyond the outdated [!] ecclesiology of return to the Catholic Church connected to the problem which is the subject of this document special preparation will be given the formation of future priests…. In the search for reestablishing unity there is no question of conversion of people from one Church to the other….” Simply to catalogue the novelty and betrayal in this statement would require an article in itself. Was anyone taught in catechism class that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches were “Sister Churches, responsible together for maintaining the Church of God”?
Rome has not been altogether straightforward regarding the Jews’ need for conversion either. The fashionable doctrine these days is the claim that the Old Covenant that God established with the Jews, far from having been superseded by the New Covenant of Christ and the Church, is in fact still in effect. Thus we have John Paul II telling a Jewish audience: “The first dimension of this dialogue, that is, the meeting between the people of the Old Covenant, never revoked by God, and that of the New Covenant, is that the same time a dialogue within our Church, that is to say, between the first and second part of her Bible.” “Jews and Christians,” he went on to say, “as children of Abraham, are called to be a blessing to the world” by “committing themselves together for peace and justice among all men and peoples.” Now it is true that one can find statements in Vatican documents warning that it would be wrong to view Judaism and Christianity as two parallel ways of salvation, but such sentiments are usually contained within statements whose tendency is to imply the very opposite.
I was very interested to see in the book version of the “We Resist” Statement, which contains a number of additional essays, John Vennari’s analysis of the changes, both implicit and explicit, that seem to have taken place in Rome’s views towards the Jews and their position as regards salvation. In particular, I have always been struck, frankly, at how meaningless, or at least deliberately ambiguous, is the prayer for the Jews in the new Good Friday liturgy. Vennari compares the prayer for the Jews in three versions of the Roman liturgy: those of 1954, 1964, and 1974. In 1954, the prayer read:
We pray for the perfidious Jews: that Our Lord and God may lift the covering off their hearts, so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ Our Lord. Let us pray. Almighty, eternal God, who does not reject the Jews in Your own mercy: hear our prayers which we offer for the blindness of this people, that acknowledging the truth of Your light which is Christ, they may be pulled out of their darkness. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.
The only difference in the 1964 version of the prayer is that the word “perfidious” has been removed; the remainder of the text is unchanged. The 1974 prayer, which is what we have now, reads as follows:
Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in the love of His Name and in faithfulness to His covenant. Almighty and eternal God, long ago You gave Your promise to Abraham and his posterity. Listen to Your Church as we pray that the people You first made Your own may arrive at the fullness of redemption. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
That the language of this prayer is as insipid and uninspiring as we’ve come to expect from the reformed liturgy is the least of its problems. Does Rome want the Jews to convert to belief in Christ or not? If so, why not simply say so, rather than forcing good Catholic priests to repeat every Good Friday the meaningless sentiment that the Jews “continue to grow in the love of [God’s] Name and in faithfulness to His covenant”? What does that mean? The appeal to God later in the prayer that the Jews “arrive at the fullness of redemption” is no less vague. Are we praying that the Jews arrive at the fullness of redemption through belief in Christ and membership in His Church? If so, why not simply say so?
Even Scott Hahn, no traditionalist he, has been critical of Cardinal Lustiger, Archbishop of Paris and one of the Pope’s favorites, for claiming that it is not necessary for the Jews to convert. (If I recall correctly, Hahn’s Protestant brother was scandalized by Lustiger’s views.) The Wanderer, too, itself criticized the late John Cardinal O’Connor, and rightly so, for giving his blessing on national television to a young man who was repudiating his Catholic faith for Judaism. The Nightline anchor asked: does this young man have the Cardinal’s blessing? His Eminence replied, “Oh yes. Oh yes. He doesn’t need it, but he has my blessing, if we’re going to call it such, because I believe that’s what the Church teaches…. Christ came into the world as a Jew. Ethnically, religiously, a Jew. We believe He was the Son of God. But He came for everybody.” Toward the end of the program, the Cardinal added: “I would be keenly disappointed if there are Christians, and most particularly Catholics, who watch this at Christmas time and have animosity towards Stephen, towards what has happened. If they want to have animosity, I’d rather they have it toward me…. If they want to consider me wrong, that’s fine. But I think that he is happy in his choice. I think that his mother is peaceful in his choice and I think God is smiling on the whole thing.” We are to believe, then, that two of the most important and influential cardinals in the world, not to mention two of the Pope’s personal favorites, are radically at odds with the Holy See on this matter? Say hello to the Mad Hatter for me, Mr. Hand.
Much has already been written on the Catholic-Lutheran Joint Statement on Justification that was signed last year and has since been praised by the Pope on numerous occasions. A good deal of this criticism has found the text ambiguous (do things ever change?). Conservative Lutherans, for instance, consider the document a lawyers’ agreement that can satisfy both sides without really resolving anything. But potentially even more significant in the long run is a statement buried within the text: “Based on the consensus reached,” it reads, “continued dialogue is required in order to full church communion, a unity in diversity in which remaining differences would be reconciled and no longer have a divisive force.” What in the world does that mean? What “remaining differences” would be “reconciled”? And what is meant by “unity in diversity”? Are we to understand that the restoration of “full communion” between the churches would be characterized by a diversity of belief?
Here is the interpretation of this typically opaque statement by Pro Ecclesia, a periodical whose testimony is all the more significant because it styles itself as a “conservative” magazine that expounds and defends the views of Pope John Paul II: “Can there be church-dividing differences that are not, ipso facto, heresies to be condemned? Certainly the Joint Declaration shows how. The mutual anathemas regarding the dogmatic expression of justification no longer apply in a meaningful way. There is consensus on the meaning and intention of the biblical teaching of justification if not on its precise theological formulation. The paradigm of visible unity as the Church being a communion of communions, one Church in a diversity of churches, is sustained by the acceptance of historically developed differences as mutually edifying diversity within a certain core of the one Church. We cannot mistake those cultural, historical developments as irreformable truths.”
It is bad enough that the agreement could even lend itself to such an interpretation, but is such an interpretation really justified? Unfortunately, it is. In fact, reconciled diversity has been the paradigm for Lutheran-Catholic reconciliation for some years now. The pertinent document, signed by representatives of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 1984, is called “Facing Unity: Models, Forms, and Phases of Catholic-Lutheran Church Fellowship,” and includes this passage:
There have always been tendencies within the ecumenical movement that aimed at an ecumenical fellowship in which the existing ecclesial traditions with their particularity and diversity would remain in integrity and authenticity…. [T]he model of “unity in reconciled diversity” has recently been developed…. The idea of “unity in reconciled diversity” means that “expression would be given to the abiding value of the confessional forms of the Christian faith in all their variety” and that these diversities, “when related to the central message of salvation and Christian faith” and when they “ring out, [are] transformed and renewed” in the process of ecumenical encounter and theological dialogue; they “lose their divisive character and are reconciled to each other…into a binding ecumenical fellowship in which even the confessional elements” are preserved.
Such a statement almost defies belief. An anonymous seminary professor wrote about reconciled diversity in much greater depth in the Summer 2000 issue of The Latin Mass magazine. (It is quite telling that advocates of “reconciled diversity” speak without repercussions even within the Eternal City itself, whereas a seminary professor warning against it has to be published anonymously—yet another reason I don’t envy Mr. Hand in his task of defending this regime.)
“Reconciled diversity” emerged in the pontificate of Paul VI. In Paul’s January 23, 1969 speech he observed: “From theological discussion it can emerge what the essential Christian doctrinal patrimony is, how much of it is communicable authentically and together in different terms that are substantially equal and complementary, and how it is possible for everyone to make the final victorious discovery of that identity of faith, in freedom, and in the variety of its expressions, from which union can be happily celebrated.” If ecumenism were all about ultimately bringing non-Catholics within the fold of the one true Church, presumably it could have been described in a somewhat more lucid manner than this.
Reconciled diversity simply will not go away. Bishop Walter Kasper, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, remarked in L’Osservatore Romano earlier this year that prior to Vatican II the Church “understood the re-establishing of Christian unity exclusively in terms of ‘return of our separated brothers to the true Church of Christ…from which they have at one time unhappily separated themselves.’” This is no longer the Church’s position, he went on to explain. Kasper completely confirms what is noted in Chris Ferrara’s survey of the post-conciliar novelties: ecumenism simply does not seek the return of non-Catholics to the one true Church. As Kasper declared: “The old concept of the ecumenism of return has today been replaced by that of a common journey which directs Christians toward the goal of ecclesial communion understood as unity in reconciled diversity” (emphasis mine here and throughout). The old idea of “ecumenism of return” is “no longer applicable to the Catholic Church after Vatican II.” Ted Turner must be overjoyed.
Even more bizarre and disturbing is Cardinal Ratzinger’s comment that “the end of all ecumenical effort is to attain [?] the true unity of the Church. For the moment, I wouldn’t dare venture to suggest any concrete realization, possible or imaginable, of this future Church. We are at an intermediate stage of unity in diversity.”
Now note well: Pope John Paul II appointed Cardinal Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He also appointed Bishop Kasper, whose orthodoxy was known to be in question, to his current post just last year. Thus, far from condemning the despicable capitulation called “reconciled diversity,” John Paul appointed to his council on Christian unity one of its best-known advocates, and Cardinal Ratzinger himself endorses the concept. Note also that Bishop Kasper made no effort to argue, a la Mr. Hand, that the positions of Pius XI and John Paul II are compatible. He frankly admitted that Pius XI’s model no longer applies. One of the heads of a pontifical council, then, is apparently secure in his job despite—gasp—having pitted one Pope against another. It will be interesting, yet probably not too suspenseful, to see which of us—me, a mere layman from Long Island, or Bishop Kasper, the secretary of a pontifical council, whose views have repercussions throughout the entire Church—Mr. Hand will see fit to excoriate with his unique mixture of name-calling and hysteria. Surprise us for a change, Mr. Hand.
The situation today is so confused and chaotic that we have to go to Karl Rahner, not an authority to whom I would ordinarily advert, for brutal honesty. “Either recognize the irreconcilability of the different denominations,” he said in 1982, “or be content with a merely verbal unity, or admit that the different denominations constitute a single faith.”
“Fish or cut bait,” Karl Keating told Chris Ferrara last month. Well, unless the “conservatives” are prepared to embrace reconciled diversity, it is they who must fish or cut bait.
If I may be permitted a brief digression, in the midst of all of these peculiar developments the wisdom and foresight of St. Pius X in condemning Modernism with such vigor have been fully vindicated. St. Pius X included quite a number of errors under this heading, but undergirding the whole heresy was a retreat from the idea that God and the truth of Catholic religion were objectively demonstrable. The Modernists tended instead to focus on the subjective aspect of religion—feeling, emotion, and sentiment—to the exclusion of all else. Hence religious dogmas were not absolutely true statements of belief presented for our assent by an infallible teaching authority but merely the inchoate expression of an ineffable religious “sentiment” to be found within all men. As St. Pius X correctly noted, there is no place for religious error in such a calculus, for if religion is based ultimately on subjectivity and sentiment, how can anyone ever be wrong? How can we say that one person’s sentiment is right and another’s simply mistaken? Much of the ecumenical movement in our age, therefore, betrays very strong Modernist influences. In the Modernist schema religious dogma is not absolute and irreformable but rather a vague, imprecise reflection of a common religious “feeling” within the human race that is in a constant state of evolution and flux, so it becomes difficult to imagine that religious reconciliation could really be based on the static formula of the simple return of dissidents to a single fold founded by Christ. Instead they imagine a shared spiritual journey in which the religious sentiment common to the human race comes to its full realization in some new dispensation that is the exclusive possession of no single group.
If none of the above qualifies as “indifferentist ecumenism,” Mr. Hand, what on earth does?
The subject of the 1986 World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi, in which the Pope prayed alongside representatives of “the world’s great religions,” has been the source of endless controversy. In his welcoming remarks, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, remarked: “We are here together without any trace of syncretism”—thus providing the “conservatives” with the requisite fig leaf to explain away the whole episode. (If there is no trace of syncretism, why say anything in the first place?) He went on: “Each of the religions we profess has inner peace, and peace among individuals and nations, as one of its aims. Each one pursues this aim in its own distinctive and irreplaceable way.”
What precisely is “irreplaceable” about false religions? Hand calls us all kinds of names for perceiving a kind of syncretism behind remarks such as these, and while some traditionalists may have exaggerated the point—a defect from which we all know Hand himself is happily immune—remarks like these should be a cause for concern because they reveal how top churchmen are really thinking. It is not easy to understand how this kind of statement could actually fail to inspire alarm in an educated Catholic.
The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, in a document singled out for praise by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint (1995), contains a similarly bizarre equivocation. Conversion, we are to understand, now refers to “a general movement towards God [that] may refer to a change of religious adherence, and particularly to embracing the Christian faith.” It may refer to a change of religious adherence? What else may it refer to, exactly? The deepening of one’s faith in a false religion?
The Assisi event, in the words of Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, then-president of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, also “raised new hopes for the participation of Catholics in similar initiatives organized by other Christians and their churches.” (These remarks all appear in the Vatican’s official book on the Assisi event, published in 1987.) At this stage I earnestly implore Mr. Hand to examine his conscience and recall how many times he himself has taken an active part “in similar initiatives organized by other Christians and their churches.” Notwithstanding his “monograph” I retain enough confidence in the good sense of Mr. Hand to expect that the answer is zero. In standing aloof from the lived practice of ecumenism, Hand does not realize that he himself is in a de facto state of resistance to the ethos, nay the urging, of today’s Vatican. I can already hear Hand screaming that praying with Protestants is not itself a dogmatic teaching, which of course it isn’t, but it certainly is something that Rome very much wants us to be doing. Cardinal Cassidy, as reported in The Latin Mass magazine, is urging Catholics and Lutherans to do as much as possible together without violating their consciences. (In my case—and as a former Lutheran myself—that translates into pretty much nothing.)
Is Stephen Hand planning to attend any episcopal ordinations of our “separated brethren” anytime soon? Our bishops sure do, and none of them has been censured by the Vatican. Faced with this sorry spectacle, one is forced to wonder: do these bishops believe or do they not believe that they alone, having been duly ordained by bishops in apostolic succession from the first days of the Church, are in exclusive possession of the authority and charism that belong to the episcopal office? If so, then what can their presence at the flagrantly invalid ordination of a Protestant “bishop” possibly signify? Is it just a gesture of “good will”? In that case, I hope everyone, as a gesture of good will, will attend next week’s ceremonies by which I will be sworn in as President of the United States.
Is Hand planning any public prayer sessions with prominent Anglicans who favor abortion and women’s ordination? That’s how Rome opened the Jubilee Year. Is a certain Catholic apologist (whose initials are K.K.) going to remove from his website all the articles intended to convert the Orthodox to Catholicism? In persisting in avoiding such ecumenical encounters and persisting in the notion that all the Protestants should simply convert to Catholicism and return to Rome, as was the universal belief before we found out in 1993 that a whole bunch of people were suddenly off-limits to proselytism, conservatives like Hand and Keating are in a de facto state of resistance to the entire ecumenical agenda, even as they attempt to defend it against all criticism.
Especially disturbing about Assisi and related events is how clearly they repudiate the insistent and tireless teaching of earlier twentieth-century popes without ever explaining to the faithful where and why those Vicars of Christ had been mistaken. Am I really no longer allowed to be persuaded by their arguments? That seems like rather a peculiar demand to make of the faithful, especially in the absence of any effort whatever to point out the deficiencies in the Church’s previous posture. I can easily imagine a “conservative” responding that the “signs of the times” call for this radical change; the Pope himself noted that the “tension” existing in the world in 1986 demanded some kind of pan-religious response. But the pre-Conciliar popes, it should be remembered, lived through two world wars without suggesting that a ceremony that could so much as be misinterpreted as implying any kind of equivalence between the Catholic Church and other religious communions was at all appropriate. Philadelphia Archbishop Dennis Dougherty, to offer only one example, was acting as a fairly typical American prelate when he refused to take part in ecumenical ceremonies marking the end of World War I. The great Cardinal Mercier, moreover, warned that World War I was a divine punishment visited upon mankind for having placed the Catholic Church at the same level as false religions. There was no confusion about Catholic identity in those days. These are but two of an endless supply of anecdotes from another world.
I freely confess: I am pitting one Pope against another. I admit it. But I am doing so not to convict anyone of heresy. I am doing so because if words still have meaning they obviously are different, and I defy Stephen Hand, Al Matt, or anyone else to prove me wrong. Back when the problem was nowhere near as serious as it is now, the pre-conciliar popes were terrified by the spread of indifferentism. That tone has been completely replaced by a baffling and inexplicable optimism. In our age it would be difficult to think of an idea that is more prevalent than the basic equality of all religions. Why would we want to do anything that could even inadvertently lend credence to this view?
In the midst of all this, I am also impertinent enough to ask what has happened to the teaching on Christ the King and His role in society. Has that been abandoned? If so, why? What was wrong with Pope Pius XI’s teaching in Quas Primas (1925) apart from the fact that it greatly displeased the modern world? I want to know why Rome, having in its official statements beaten a glaring retreat from the call for the enthronement of Christ the King over human societies, has instead adopted almost exclusively the language of tolerance and human rights. It cannot be a coincidence that in the revised calendar the Feast of Christ the King has been moved to the end of the liturgical year, a shift whose clear implication is that the Kingship of Christ is something we await at the end of time and not anything to be established here and now.
These kinds of scandalous and despicable equivocations are especially inexcusable in the present spiritual milieu. There is nothing that a diehard globalist would like more than to see all the Christian denominations, or indeed all the world’s religions, absorbed into a blob that would in consequence be so meaningless and so incapable of commanding the fierce loyalty of its adherents that it would pose no threat whatever to the brave new world they are so eager to impose on us. In this context it is helpful and even a bit unsettling to recall what I consider one of the most memorable lines of St. Pius X’s entire pontificate. We are witnessing, he said, a “great movement of apostasy being organized in every country for the establishment of a one-world Church which shall have neither dogmas, nor hierarchy; neither discipline for the mind, nor curb for the passions….” I guess the situation has improved so much since then that we are no longer in need of such warnings.
By any conceivable interpretation of traditional Catholic teaching, it is dramatically urgent that the members of the assembled non-Catholic religions at Assisi convert to the true Faith, and as quickly as possible. Was this idea so much as hinted at by any of the Catholics involved? Here is how Pope Pius IX discussed this issue in his Allocution Singulari Quadem (1854), touching on a point that would later appear in his Syllabus of Errors: “Not without sorrow we have learned that another error, no less destructive, has taken possession of some parts of the Catholic world, and has taken up abode in the souls of many Catholics who think that one should have good hope of the eternal salvation of all those who have never lived in the true Church of Christ.” Pius IX taught that the “invincible ignorance” of those who had never known Christ would not be reckoned by God as a sin. He also said, though, that “it must be held by faith that outside the Apostolic Roman Church no one can be saved; that this is the only ark of salvation; that he who shall not have entered therein will perish in the flood…. Truths of this sort should be deeply fixed in the minds of the faithful, lest they be corrupted by false doctrines, whose object is to foster an indifference toward religion, which we see spreading widely and growing strong for the destruction of souls.”
The traditional tone and content of papal pronouncements on the one true religion is all gone. In Ut Unum Sint, John Paul wrote: “Along the ecumenical path to unity, pride of place certainly belongs to common prayer, the prayerful union of those who gather together around Christ himself. If Christians, despite their divisions, can grow ever more united in common prayer around Christ, they will grow in the awareness of how little divides them in comparison to what unites them.” Aside from the radically different tone of such a statement from that of all pre-conciliar popes, who forbade precisely such exercises as a danger to the faith of Catholics, the suggestion that more unites Christians than divides them is extremely dubious, especially given the catastrophic collapse of Protestantism into outright liberalism over the course of the twentieth century. But even taking into account the most conservative Protestants the question can be raised: How can a faith that teaches us to strive for holiness and to purify our souls through the sanctifying grace we receive from the sacraments be said to be very similar to one that considers such things to be the foulest sins and the grossest presumption?
Yet today the doctrine of the one true Church, the Ark of Salvation, gives way to Cardinal Etchegaray’s bizarre celebration of diversity—which, again, doubtless warmed the hearts of the enemies of religion around the world, who are thrilled to see the seriousness and the hard edge of the traditional faith visibly subsiding, but which at the same time was as complete a repudiation of the efforts and instincts of the whole assembly of saints as I hope we ever have the misfortune to see.
Surveying the state of Christian and pan-religious ecumenism, Romano Amerio, a peritus at Vatican II, had this to say:
The present temper of ecumenism, involving an effective renunciation of an expansion of the Catholic faith, is clearly evident in John Paul II’s speeches in Nigeria in 1982: there is no mention of conversion to Christ, but in a special message to Muslims, which was not actually received by any Muslims or in any way replied to, the Pope hoped for cooperation between the two religions “in the interests of Nigerian unity” and “to make a contribution to the good order of the world as a new civilization of love.” As we have noted, harmony in the world is no longer presented in terms of a single religion, but of a single civilization….
Let us here recall an important teaching of Pope St. Pius X. In August 1910 the Pope issued his apostolic letter Our Apostolic Mandate, directed at the French Sillon. The Sillon was a social and political organization that sought to base civilization and civic progress exclusively upon human good will and to leave out of the equation those things, religion especially, that divide people. The Pope quoted one of its adherents thus: “Catholic comrades will work between themselves in a special organization and will learn and educate themselves. Protestant and Free-Thinking Democrats will do likewise on their own side. But all of us, Catholics, Protestants and Free-Thinkers will have at heart to arm young people, not in view of the fratricidal struggle, but in view of a disinterested emulation in the field of social and civic virtues.”
The Pope answered:
Here we have, founded by Catholics, an interdenominational association that is to work for the reform of civilization, an undertaking which is above all religious in character, for there is no true civilization without a moral civilization, and no true moral civilization without the true religion: it is a proven truth, a historical fact. The new Sillonists cannot pretend that they are merely working on “the ground of practical realities” where differences of belief do not matter…. But stranger still, alarming and saddening at the same time, are the audacity and frivolity of men who call themselves Catholics and dream of re-shaping society under such conditions, and of establishing on earth, over and beyond the pale of the Catholic Church, “the reign of love and justice” with workers coming from everywhere, of all religions and of no religion, with or without beliefs so long as they forego what might divide them—their religious and philosophical convictions—and so long as they share what unites them—a “generous idealism and moral forces drawn from whence they can.” When we consider the forces, knowledge and supernatural virtues which were necessary to establish the Christian State, and the sufferings of millions of martyrs, and the light given by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and of the self-sacrifice of all the heroes of charity, and a powerful hierarchy ordained in heaven, and the streams of Divine Grace—the whole having been built up, bound together, and impregnated by the life and spirit of Jesus Christ, the Wisdom of God, the Word made man—when we think, I say, of all this, it is frightening to behold new apostles eagerly attempting to do better by a common interchange of vague idealism and civic virtues. What are they going to produce? What is to come out of this collaboration? A mere verbal and chimerical construction in which we see, glowing in a jumble, and in seductive confusion, the words of Liberty, Justice, Fraternity, Love, Equality, and human exaltation, all resting upon an ill-understood human dignity. It will be a tumultuous agitation, sterile for the end proposed, but which will benefit the less Utopian exploiters of the people. Yes, we can truly say that the Sillon, its eyes fixed on a chimera, brings Socialism in its train.
The “Final Declaration of the Inter-religious Assembly” of October 1999, the Vatican gathering that commemorated the Assisi event of October 1986, called on the world’s religions to “confront together, responsibly and courageously, the problems and challenges of our modern world (i.e., poverty, racism, environmental pollution, materialism, war, proliferation of arms, globalization, AIDS, lack of medical care, breakdown of family and community, marginalization of women and children, etc.).” How is this program different from the utopianism condemned by St. Pius X? But here I go again pitting one Pope against another, a habit I picked up after committing myself irrevocably to the Law of the Excluded Middle, that elementary principle of logic to which we “Integrists” continue to have such stubborn recourse.
The world in which we find ourselves is one that, whether it realizes it or not, needs a tough and militant Catholic Church more than ever. Indeed it was precisely the militancy of the Catholic Church, and the grace that her sacraments transmit, that gave the saints the strength and fortitude to live lives of truly heroic virtue. It wasn’t a conception of the Church as a “joint custodian” of the Church of God with this or that other church that encouraged the saints in their heroism; the Catholic Church was the Church of God! It was this conviction that set on fire the souls of the nuns whose heroism in the Catholic hospitals of the eighteenth century amazed even the freethinking Voltaire, who loathed the Catholic Church but who admired and could not explain the seemingly superhuman strength of these great women. It was this conviction alone that can account for the great St. Isaac Jogues, a Jesuit missionary who was so horribly mutilated by the Indians in North America that he was not recognized when he returned to Rome, but who nevertheless returned to mission territory two years later, where he met his martyrdom.
The novelties and innovations in the post-Conciliar years, ecumenism chief among them, are not irreversible. They constitute a prudential program that in the name of the Church’s welfare we have the right and duty to oppose. Let us recall the words of the Dominican theologian Melchior Cano, an important figure at the Council of Trent, which could have been written for the Stephen Hands of the post-conciliar era: “Peter has no need of our lies or flattery. Those who blindly and indiscriminately defend every decision of the supreme Pontiff are the very ones who do most to undermine the authority of the Holy See—they destroy instead of strengthening its foundations.”
The Catholic Church (and not the Union, as Abraham Lincoln foolishly suggested) is truly the last, best hope of earth, and I’m not talking about fighting racism or curing AIDS. I mean that only the Church, with her sacraments and her beautiful rituals and traditions, can sustain us in holiness in a world in which temptation is aggressively and ubiquitously present. The traditional faith alone can restore a sense of piety, reverence, and humility to a world that is making war on the very idea of the sacred, refusing in its hubris to acknowledge that there might exist any belief, institution, or code of conduct not subject to human revision. The Catholic Church, wrote the American Ecclesiastical Review in 1899, is “the greatest, the grandest, and the most beautiful institution in the world.” And so she is.
We just wish her leaders would start acting like it once again.
In his ongoing (and ever-reactionary) response to my last Remnant article, Mr. Hand thinks he dealt me a terrible blow in ridiculing my description of Vatican II as constituting primarily a change in the Church’s orientation. But for Heaven’s sake, what other shorthand way exists for describing it? For the most part, that is precisely what the Council was about: a change in the Church’s orientation vis-à-vis her relations with the world, with non-Catholic Christians, with non-Christians, and even with atheists; in the kind of language she would use, in her increasing distaste for ecclesiastical discipline—the list could go on. I am quite aware that the Council included documents on such questions as the sources of divine revelation and Rome’s relationship with the Eastern Catholic churches. But it is inane to pounce on my characterization of the changes instituted by Vatican II as having dealt primarily with the Church’s orientation. That is how everyone, friend or foe, describes it, since that is obviously what it was. Hand’s petty refusal to concede this is a function of his inability to make simple distinctions. He apparently thinks the ecumenical initiative now has the force of magisterial infallibility behind it, as if the desirability of praying with people of other faiths were a truth on par with the Blessed Virgin’s Immaculate Conception. That’s why he scornfully dismissed as a “hallucination” my suggestion that someday these things might be reversed. My advice to Mr. Hand: quit being an integrist, raising non-magisterial matters to the level of infallible teaching.
I cited St. Isidore of Seville as having believed that the Church would have been better off had the Second Council of Constantinople (553) never been called. I am supposed to be impressed, presumably, with Hand’s reply that this is an example of the hyperbole that follows immediately upon the conclusion of any council. I invite Hand to take the trouble to study this council and decide for himself whether it wasn’t in fact quite responsible for the confusion and bitterness that ravaged the Church for over a century following its close. (The great Catholic historian Msgr. Philip Hughes was being diplomatic when he described it, in the 1930s, as “the strangest of all the general councils.”) And second, since St. Isidore died some eighty-three years after the close of Constantinople II, I’d say he had ample time for reflection.
I’ve since deleted this particular tract of his, so I’m responding to Hand’s objections from memory. I remember vividly, though, that more than once he poked fun at me for my age, once again revealing the hypocrisy of his solemn protestations against alleged ad hominem attacks on our part. My arguments for traditionalism, he says, are a product of the zeal of youth. Now before this attack I would never have dreamed of suggesting that Hand’s own defense of business as usual in Rome could be traced to the lethargy of middle age. But since he brought it up….