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A Question of Novelty:

Why tradition rejects it



-by David Palm-




I have the good fortune to know Omar Gutierrez personally, having met him through mutual friends with whom he was staying here in rural Wisconsin.  Omar is a good-hearted individual and a devout Catholic.  Indeed, he represents the very epitome of the pious and zealous neo-Catholic described in the pages of The Great Facade (TGF).  I entirely sympathize with the instinct, embodied in Omar’s multi-part essay in The Wanderer, that jumps to the defense of an ecumenical council, the Holy Father, and all those who have been entrusted with the oversight of the Catholic Church.  As the authors of TGF point out, it is a healthy and laudable instinct and in better times would be entirely praiseworthy.  Alas, these are not better times for the Church.  Rather, they’re downright awful and thus Omar Gutierrez has a real problem; he finds himself on the wrong side of a critical debate on Catholic Tradition.  But fortunately, as I know from personal experience, by God’s grace and reasonable argumentation his unfortunate plight is entirely curable.

I am well acquainted with the events that led up to Omar’s essay being published in The Wanderer.  In fact, it was at the monthly colloquium which is currently held at my home that he first encountered a vigorous traditionalist argument, as we discussed Msgr. Klaus Gamber’s book, The Reform of the Roman Liturgy.  Although he argued gamely in defense of the liturgical changes incorporated into the Novus Ordo Missae, my impression of the evening was that the traditionalists fared very well indeed.  Of course, I’m probably biased.  Still, I have to hand it to Omar that he returned to several more colloquia, whereas none of the other neo-Catholics in attendance that night returned.  It was in a follow-up to some of our discussions that one of the traditionalist attendees gave Omar (henceforth Mr. Gutierrez, so as not to be too informal in a serious discussion) a copy of TGF with the challenge that, “Catholics have nothing to fear from ideas.  And thus was set in motion this entire exchange in the pages of The Wanderer and The Remnant.

In this essay I will critique one aspect of Mr. Gutierrez’s argument against TGF, namely, his treatment of novelty.  Although he notes that the concept of novelty lies at the very heart of TGF’s argument, he finds the authors’ use of the term decidedly lacking:


The authors and traditionalists in general never define what they mean by the term “novelty.”  They toss the word about without ever making any effort of distinction between what is simply new, new-and-true, or new-and-false.  The subtitle to the authors’ work reads, “Vatican II and the regime of novelty in the Roman Catholic Church.”  This whole debate boils down, in the minds of the authors, to “one word: novelty.”  Is it not then remarkable that they make hardly any effort to attempt to understand this term?  Is it not inexcusable that what understanding they do have is so wrong?


Mr. Gutierrez believes that in his own essay he has righted this alleged wrong and provided an accurate definition of novelty, albeit one that clashes with the central thesis of TGF.  In a nutshell, he claims that “novelty”, as condemned in various ecclesiastical documents, applies only to doctrines, whereas Ferrara and Woods claim that the term applies also to innovations in matters of ecclesiastical practice and discipline.  Gutierrez comes to his conclusion through a private survey of the evidence:


I have taken it upon myself to search the use of the word “novelty” throughout the history of the Church.  My results cannot be at all exhaustive.  My search was in English, and thus I am at the mercy of translators who may have translated the Latin and Greek words for “novelty” inconsistently.  Nevertheless, I believe it has been a useful search.  The word “novelty” is used most often as the Nicaean fathers use it and as I have come to understand it.  Novelty is to be rejected when it jeopardizes Tradition, when it threatens to do away with or contradict a doctrine of the Catholic Church, when its very newness is bound up with error.


Further down he summarizes the fundamental principle that makes something new a “novelty” in the condemnable sense:


The specific theological meaning of the word “novelty” refers to those teachings that are precisely false in their newness, where the error and the newness cannot be separated.  These errors are not false because everything new is wrong.  They are false because their newness suggests that the Tradition is wrong.


Notice that to this point Gutierrez’s definition of novelty does not exclude the possibility that some change in perennial practice or custom would “jeopardize Tradition” or “threaten to do away with or contradict a doctrine of the Catholic Church” and hence qualify as a condemnable novelty.  In fact, that would be the very understanding of novelty presented in the pages of TGF.  But ultimately Gutierrez eliminates that sort of novelty from his definition.  After presenting a number of citations gleaned from his search he summarizes: “It should be absolutely clear that the Popes and the councils have used the term ‘novelty’ in the context of doctrine over and above anything else.  What is new and doctrinally erroneous is to be rejected.”

Based on his analysis of the term, Mr. Gutierrez concludes that Ferrara and Woods wrongly claim that changes in policies, observances, customs, and practices represent a “regime of novelty” in the Roman Catholic Church.  Indeed, according to him they are not only wrong, they are intellectually lazy and downright dishonest.

How should one respond to this charge?  For starters, my own survey of the evidence indicates that Mr. Gutierrez is correct that the words “novelty” and “innovation” in the writings of the Fathers and later ecclesiastical sources “most often” occur in the context of quarrels over doctrines.  But “most often” simply isn’t enough on which to hang charges of intellectual laziness and malfeasance.  Rather, he would have to demonstrate that “novelty” as condemned by Fathers, Councils, and Popes always refers to doctrines and never to harmful practices or observances.  And this he would be unable to do, for he has not cast his net quite wide enough.  A more thorough survey of the Fathers’ view of “novelty” reveals that they condemned, as harmful to the Church, both doctrinal novelties and practical novelties, i.e. radical breaks with longstanding ecclesiastical practice and discipline.  How does one discern between a true and harmful novelty and that which, as Gutierrez says, is merely new-and-true?  I believe Mr. Gutierrez has hit on the correct distinction already, but has drawn the boundaries too narrowly.  For even in the sphere of Church practice and custom, as also in doctrinal matters, it is precisely those changes which “suggest that the Tradition is wrong” that represent harmful novelties.


Novelty in the Fathers:


While Mr. Gutierrez is certainly correct that novelty and innovation “most often” refer in the writings of the Fathers to doctrinal deviations, it remains that they also speak of deviation from perennial custom and ecclesiastical practice as harmful novelty.  For example, St. Augustine says:  “But mere change of custom, even though it may be of advantage in some respects, unsettles men by reason of the novelty: therefore, if it brings no advantage, it does much harm by unprofitably disturbing the Church.”[1]

St. John Chrysostom states that innovations and novelties in liturgy are especially harmful.  When describing the difficulty that the Apostles had in convincing observant Jews that their system of worship had to be entirely changed, he noted this principle: “For nothing so much disturbs the mind, though it be done for some beneficial purpose, as to innovate and introduce strange things, and most of all when this is done in matters relating to divine worship and the glory of God.” [2]

Similarly, St. Vincent of Lerins states that it is the duty and responsibility of a pious Catholic to preserve faithfully both the beliefs and the observances which he has received from those who have gone before:


For it has always been the case in the Church, that the more a man is under the influence of religion, so much the more prompt is he to oppose innovations. . . . In fine, in an epistle sent at the time to Africa, he [Pope St. Stephen] laid down this rule: "Let there be no innovation—nothing but what has been handed down."  For that holy and prudent man well knew that true piety admits no other rule than that whatsoever things have been faithfully received from our fathers the same are to be faithfully consigned to our children; and that it is our duty, not to lead religion whither we would, but rather to follow religion whither it leads; and that it is the part of Christian modesty and gravity not to hand down our own beliefs or observances to those who come after us, but to preserve and keep what we have received from those who went before us.[3]


Other early Roman Pontiffs dubbed breaches of ecclesiastical discipline as harmful novelties.  So, for example, Pope St. Leo the Great writes to the bishops of the Viennese province concerning the waywardness of Hilary, another bishop of that area:


But this most holy firmness of the rock, reared, as we have said, by the building hand of God, a man must wish to destroy in over-weaning wickedness when he tries to break down its power, by favouring his own desires, and not following what he received from men of old: for he believes himself subject to no law, and held in check by no rules of God's ordinances and breaks away, in his eagerness for novelty, from your use and ours, by adopting illegal practices, and letting what he ought to keep fall into abeyance.[4]


In another letter he writes to rebuke one Bishop Dorus for promoting a junior priest over his seniors:


We grieve that the judgment, which we hoped to entertain of you, has been frustrated by our ascertaining that you have done things which by their blame-worthy novelty infringe the whole system of Church discipline: although you know full well with what care we wish the provisions of the canons to be kept through all the churches of the Lord, and the priests of all the peoples to consider it their especial duty to prevent the violation of the rules of the holy constitutions by any extravagances.[5]


Now obviously there is no divine commandment that a junior priest may never be promoted over a senior; this is a matter of ecclesiastical discipline.  And yet, St. Leo the Great states that to transgress this element of canon law is a novelty which “infringe[s] the whole system of Church discipline”, to the detriment of the Church at large.

Pope St. Gregory the Great also wrote to a bishop, rebuking him for infringing on the ancient and established customs of a particular monastery:


Now the monks of the Castilliensian monastery in your Fraternity's city have complained to us that you are taking steps to impose upon the said monastery certain things contrary to what had been allowed by your predecessors and sanctioned by long custom, and to disturb ancient arrangements by a certain injurious novelty.[6]


Chronologically this brings us fairly near to the Second Council of Nicea, about which Mr. Gutierrez makes so great a fuss.  The authors of TGF cite the Second Council of Nicea and its condemnation of innovation as an authoritative statement of the Church’s abhorrence of novelty, a condemnation repeated by Pope St. Pius X in his anti-modernist encyclical Pascendi.  But Gutierrez believes their use of this conciliar text is erroneous:


On page 28 we find another example of their ignorance or purposeful deception when they once again quote from Nicaea II.  Using a canon from the Nicaean Council they write, “And, lest there be any doubt that all of the received and approved ecclesiastical traditions of the Church are to be regarded as part of the Church’s untouchable patrimony: ‘If anyone rejects any written or unwritten tradition of the church, let him be anathema’.”  Here the authors mistakenly interpret “unwritten tradition” to mean nondoctrinal traditions.


Gutierrez asserts once again that the council fathers of Nicea II had only doctrinal matters in mind when condemning novelties:


The glaring error that the authors make is interpreting the phrases “any one of the legitimate traditions,” “ecclesiastical traditions,” and “other observances” to mean nondoctrinal traditions.  But there is nothing in the text from Pascendi or in Nicaea II that would suggest this.  “Ecclesiastical tradition” refers to those dogmas that are considered “virtually revealed,” as the Catholic Encyclopedia quote above states very clearly.  Or the phrase could refer to those dogmas developed by the Church over time and which are not explicitly revealed in the apostolic Tradition or in Scripture.  The authors read into these phrases what they want to hear.


And yet, a complete reading of the conciliar text indicates that Mr. Gutierrez is mistaken in his attempt to draw the boundaries of Nicea II’s condemnation of novelty so narrowly as to contain only doctrinal matters.  For example, in their solemn decree the council fathers state:


Those, therefore who dare to think or teach otherwise, or as wicked heretics to spurn the traditions of the Church and to invent some novelty, or else to reject some of those things which the Church hath received (e.g., the Book of the Gospels, or the image of the cross, or the pictorial icons, or the holy reliques of a martyr), or evilly and sharply to devise anything subversive of the lawful traditions of the Catholic Church or to turn to common uses the sacred vessels of the venerable monasteries, if they be Bishops or Clerics, we command that they be deposed; if religious or laics, that they be cut off from communion.[7]


And in Canon VII, they give another example of a transgression of “ecclesiastical tradition”, namely, the consecration of a local church without the use of the relics of martyrs:


Paul the divine Apostle says: “The sins of some are open beforehand, and some they follow after.”  These are their primary sins, and other sins follow these.  Accordingly upon the heels of the heresy of the traducers of the Christians, there followed close other ungodliness.  For as they took out of the churches the presence of the venerable images, so likewise they cast aside other customs which we must now revive and maintain in accordance with the written and unwritten law.  We decree therefore that relics shall be placed with the accustomed service in as many of the sacred temples as have been consecrated without the relics of the Martyrs.  And if any bishop from this time forward is found consecrating a temple without holy relics, he shall be deposed, as a transgressor of the ecclesiastical traditions.[8]


Notice well the argument of the council fathers.  Just as certain observances in the Catholic Church are closely bound up with orthodox belief, so close on the heels of heresy there follow objectionable actions and rejection of venerable customs.  So, in this example, rejection of the Church’s orthodox doctrine on the veneration of images and relics leads to the rejection of the venerable custom of consecrating a church using relics of the saints.  Thus the council fathers of Nicea II denounce both the doctrinal novelty which rejects the veneration of images and the practical novelty of failing to consecrate a church using relics.

Right faith (orthodoxy) and right practice (orthopraxy) are thoroughly intertwined.  One had good reason then, as now, to question the Eucharistic faith of someone who would treat the vessels of consecration as ordinary cups and plates.  The practice in certain Protestant sects of dumping leftover cups of grape juice or wine into the garbage is a direct and logical outgrowth of their staunch belief in the Real Absence at their services.  The flipside is that the Catholic belief in the Real Presence leads naturally not only to taking certain precautions with the consecrated elements, but also with the vessels in which they were contained.

As the Church's faith is more precisely defined, certain of her customs and practices develop to reflect that fuller understanding.  So, for example, there was a veritable explosion in the practice of Marian devotion following the definition of the dogma of Mary as Theotokos at the Council of Ephesus in A. D. 431.  This is a natural and traditional response to a solemn doctrinal definition by the Church's magisterium.  As the authors of TGF rightly point out, traditionalists are not (or at least are not supposed to be) immobilists.  There is such a thing as a legitimate change in Church practice or observance, just as there is such a thing as legitimate doctrinal development.  But, as several twentieth century Popes taught, it is characteristic of adherents to the modernist heresy to pine for imagined simpler, gentler times, to leap over the intervening centuries of doctrinal and practical development and try to recapture an earlier form of faith and practice.  Even with its appeal to the practice of earlier times, this is actually but another form of harmful novelty and is indicative of a defective understanding of the Catholic Faith.  When, for example, we attend a funeral in the all-too-common Catholic church denuded of all statuary, sporting a table-form altar, a “Resurrection Jesus” in place of a crucifix, and served by a priest decked out in vestments of any color but black—all examples of false antiquarianism laid out by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Mediator Dei—we know instinctively that there is almost certainly some problem with that priest’s faith.  Similarly, at the time of the iconoclast heresy one had good reason to suspect the right faith of a bishop who refused to consecrate a church using relics and this is true even if it could be shown that somewhere, sometime in the distant past bishops regularly consecrated churches without relics.

Now it is clearly not contrary to divine law to consecrate a church without the use of relics.  But in the face of an heretical denial of propriety of the veneration of relics, failure to use them represents a novel and condemnable breach with venerable custom.  To paraphrase Mr. Gutierrez, these novel deviations from perennial custom are wrong, are condemnable, precisely because they suggest that the Tradition is wrong.  And the council fathers of Nicea II took such a breach with “tradition-custom” so seriously that they prescribed deposition from the episcopate as the due penalty.


Novelty in the Medieval Era:


Moving from the patristic era to the medieval we encounter an interesting discussion in St. ThomasSumma Theologica.  Although he does not use the word “novelty”, he does address the question of whether changes, even in matters of human law, are beneficial to the common good.  In answer to the question, “Whether human law should always be changed, whenever something better occurs?”, St. Thomas cited the Decretals, stating that, “It is absurd, and a detestable shame, that we should suffer those traditions to be changed which we have received from the fathers of old.” (Decretals, Dist. xii, 5).  The Decretals were the collection of canon law compiled by Gratian; they embodied various legal precedents that extended back into the Church’s antiquity.  Then St. Thomas himself states in reply to the question:


As stated above, human law is rightly changed, in so far as such change is conducive to the common weal.  But, to a certain extent, the mere change of law is of itself prejudicial to the common good: because custom avails much for the observance of laws, seeing that what is done contrary to general custom, even in slight matters, is looked upon as grave.  Consequently, when a law is changed, the binding power of the law is diminished, in so far as custom is abolished.  Wherefore human law should never be changed, unless, in some way or other, the common weal be compensated according to the extent of the harm done in this respect.  Such compensation may arise either from some very great and very evident benefit conferred by the new enactment; or from the extreme urgency of the case, due to the fact that either the existing law is clearly unjust, or its observance extremely harmful.  Wherefore the jurist says . . . that “in establishing new laws, there should be evidence of the benefit to be derived, before departing from a law which has long been considered just.”[9]


This passage was brought to Gutierrez's attention that very evening during which we discussed Gamber's book.  The traditionalist argument ran that if such a principle applies to human laws in the secular sphere, a fortiori it would apply to ecclesiastical laws.  Law is always bound up with both authority and precedent.  If laws are changed willy-nilly then precedent is destroyed and thus so is the binding force of the law.  This will apply more to ecclesiastical law than to civil law since the Church is supposed to seem solid, perennial and immoveable.

Although it did not make it into the pages of The Wanderer, Mr. Gutierrez did address this passage from St. Thomas in an original draft of his essay which he was kind enough to share with me.  He states that St. Thomas draws a clear distinction between civil and ecclesiastical law and that the principle enunciated by the Angelic Doctor simply does not apply to ecclesiastical law.  Gutierrez makes the following distinction:


Thomas [sic] is very clear that positive and ecclesiastical law are different things altogether.  Their ends are different; their means for achieving their ends are different; there is a rectitude associated with ecclesiastical law that is simply not existent in positive law.  They are different kinds of law that call forth different levels of obedience from their subjects.


All of this is true, but the conclusion he draws from it is a non sequitur: “One can apply a principle of natural law to the civil, but one cannot go the other direction and start applying principles from a lower, less-perfect law to a higher law.”  Now at best one could say that only some principles of a lower law could be applied to a higher.  But all forms of law share certain principles in common.  And this is one, that changing the law without adequate reason disrupts the common good and diminishes the binding force of the law.  This is true for civil law, it is even more true for ecclesiastical law precisely because it calls forth a higher adherence and obedience than the civil, and most disruptive of all would be a change (per impossible) in divine law.

And although Mr. Gutierrez says that “the application of this article of Thomas’ [sic] to the Church is an abuse”, he has missed one detail in the article itself that completely undermines his argument.  For he fails to observe that the Decretals, which St. Thomas cites to provide an authority for his argument, are an embodiment of ecclesiastical law, not civil law.  St. Thomas is in fact arguing from the higher to the lower.  If, as the Decretals say, “It is absurd, and a detestable shame, that we should suffer those traditions to be changed which we have received from the fathers of old”, then this principle applies also to the civil law.  This provides the legal precedent within the Church that the changing of laws and customs is inherently prejudicial to the common good and ought not to be done except for the most grave reasons.

The Catholic Church has experienced unprecedented change in every aspect of her life.  Certainly those who made the changes and those who now defend them seek to argue that they were for the Church’s benefit.  But as we see from the Angelic Doctor, it is not sufficient that changes to fundamental aspects of the Church’s life be merely beneficial.  Significant changes should only be enacted either in response to some harm or injustice—and I hope that not even neo-Catholics will argue that the traditional Roman Rite, for example, just had to be completely overhauled because it was unjust or harmful—or if the changes will certainly provide “very great and very evident benefit” to the commonweal.  And this is precisely where the post-conciliar statistics documenting the precipitous decline in every aspect of the Church’s life become highly significant.  Neo-Catholic defenders of the post-conciliar changes are unable to cite any obvious benefits at all, let alone “very great and very evident” benefits.  It is also true, as I think all will have to admit, that so many customs being changed in so short a period has resulted in the “binding power of the law [being] diminished”.  Isn’t it true that recent reversals in Church policy have convinced “dissenters” that their particular agenda will eventually be enacted, if only they hold out long enough?  Thus traditionalists are well in their bounds to say that the number and scope of the post-conciliar changes represent an imprudent breach with the perennial wisdom of the Church, which dictates the utmost care and hesitancy in changing even customs and practices, lest the common good be harmed.


Novelty in the Modern Popes:


Rejection of novelty and innovation was a central theme reiterated time and again in the anti-modernist writings of the Popes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  And as we have already seen, their understanding of novelty and innovation was informed by the Fathers, Doctors, Councils, and Popes which preceded them.  Mr. Gutierrez would like to confine their condemnation of novelty and innovation exclusively to the doctrinal sphere, but it cannot be so confined.  For example, Pope Leo XIII wrote:


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.[10]


I always shudder when I read that quote, since it sounds so much like the very agenda that has been promoted by the Vatican in the post-conciliar era.  And yet none of those things mentioned by Pope Leo XIII as embodying a spirit of unsound novelty are doctrinal per se.  Rather, they are novel because, as Mr. Gutierrez has said in his own definition of novelty, “their newness suggests that the Tradition is wrong.”  Note too that this instruction from Pope Leo XIII was cited in Pope St. Pius X’s anti-modernist encyclical Pascendi.  This directly undermines Mr. Gutierrez’s charge that Ferrara and Woods were careless in citing Pascendi in support of their thesis.  St. Pius stated forcefully in his encyclical a resounding denunciation of novelty, using that word in its full and proper ecclesiastical sense, not the truncated sense proffered by Mr. Gutierrez:


But for Catholics the second Council of Nicea will always have the force of law, where it condemns those who dare, after the impious fashion of heretics, to deride the ecclesiastical traditions, to invent novelties of some kind . . . or endeavour by malice or craft to overthrow any one of the legitimate traditions of the Catholic Church; and Catholics will hold for law, also, the profession of the fourth Council of Constantinople: We therefore profess to conserve and guard the rules bequeathed to the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church by the Holy and most illustrious Apostles, by the orthodox Councils, both general and local, and by every one of those divine interpreters the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.  Wherefore the Roman Pontiffs, Pius IV. and Pius IX., ordered the insertion in the profession of faith of the following declaration: I most firmly admit and embrace the apostolic and ecclesiastical traditions and other observances and constitutions of the Church.[11]


St. Pius’ condemnation of modernism and his exhortation for Catholics (especially priests and bishops) to stand firm against it may be captured in one sentence: “Far, far from the clergy be the love of novelty!”[12]  St. Pius X’s successor, Pope Benedict XV, continued this theme and made it quite clear that the notion of innovation and novelty that characterizes modernism does indeed embrace elements of Catholic observance that are not doctrines, strictly speaking, but even extends to private devotions of immemorial custom:


Those who are infected by that [modernist] spirit develop a keen dislike for all that savours of antiquity and become eager searchers after novelties in everything: in the way in which they carry out religious functions, in the ruling of Catholic institutions, and even in private exercises of piety.  Therefore it is our will that the law of our forefathers should still be held sacred: “Let there be no innovation; keep to what has been handed down.”[13]


This sweeping and repeated warning against and condemnation of novelty and innovation sets the stage for the entire debate between traditionalists and neo-Catholics.  Even Mr. Gutierrez states plainly that, “Novelty is to be rejected when it jeopardizes Tradition, when it threatens to do away with or contradict a doctrine of the Catholic Church, when its very newness is bound up with error.”  Taking up this very definition, let us apply it to the post-conciliar scene.


Novelty in Terminology:


As the authors of TGF quite rightly point out, the conciliar and post-conciliar period has been characterized by a whole passel of new terms, never part of the vocabulary of the Church, ill-defined, but now thrown around with tremendous regularity and force.  They argue—and I agree—that these neologisms represent harmful novelties in the life of the Church.  Many examples are given in TGF, but I will develop one here, the term “dialogue”.  Romano Amerio, a peritus at the Council, points out both the newness and the centrality of this word “dialogue” in the documents of Vatican II:


Some words that had never been used in papal documents and which occurred only in specific fields have acquired an enormous popularity in the short space of a few years.  The most notable of these is the word dialogue, which was previously unused in the Church.  Vatican II used it twenty-eight times and coined the famous formula which expresses the axis or main intention of the council: dialogue with the world [GS 43] and mutual dialogue between the Church and the world.  The word became a category embracing the whole of reality, going far beyond the ambit of logic and rhetoric within which it had previously been confined.  Everything had a dialogical structure.  Some even went so far as to imagine a dialogical structure in the divine essence (considered as one, not as three), a dialogical structure in the Church, in religion, in the family, in peace, in truth and so on.  Everything becomes dialogue, and truth in facto esse ["as an acquired fact"] dissolves into its own fieri ["process of becoming"] as dialogue.[14]


Amerio is certainly right that the notion of dialogue permeates almost every aspect of the Church today; it is in many ways the terminological tail that wags the ecclesiastical dog.  But what, exactly, does it mean?  I challenge Mr. Gutierrez or anybody else to provide a precise, magisterial definition for this word “dialogue.”  Actually, he has all but conceded that no such definition exists: “Even if dialogue did not have a clear meaning in [Unitatis Reditegratio] there is a dictionary definition of the word that is easily understandable and applicable . . .”  But is it really that simple?  No.  For here’s the testimony of a prominent council father of Vatican II on the meaning of this word:  “Dialogue is an essential theme of the Council, perhaps the most essential . . . . But this word ‘dialogue’ can have extremely different meanings.  One of the tasks of the Church since the Council is to define precisely what ‘dialogue’ means.”[15]  The Cardinal goes on to enumerate four things that he thinks “dialogue” means.  Now this is just so typical of the muddle unleashed in the Church by this fuzzy terminology.  The neo-Catholic apologist like Gutierrez is annoyed with traditionalists for making an issue out of the lack of a definition for “dialogue”.  “Just look it up in the dictionary!”, is his easy answer.  But a prominent council father states that, on the contrary, “this word ‘dialogue’ can have extremely different meanings” and that it has been a task of the Church since the Council to try to define this word.  So, whom shall we believe: Omar Gutierrez, who insists that the word is easy to define, or council father Cardinal Daniélou, who says a precise definition is difficult to procure?

Nor has there been any help on this matter from the Magisterium in the post-conciliar period.  Amerio notes the harm that such ambiguity in the conciliar documents brings, yet observes that nothing official has been done to ameliorate this ambiguity of terminology:


The more general procedure, however, has not been to abandon the council thus baldly but rather to appeal to its spirit and so to introduce new words designed to insinuate particular ideas, exploiting to this end the imprecision of the conciliar documents themselves.  It is highly significant in this regard that, although the council, as is customary, left behind it a commission for the authentic interpretation of its decrees, that commission never issued any interpretations and is never referred to by anyone.[16]


You caught that, right?  The most essential theme of the Second Vatican Council is captured by a word that is neither defined by the council nor by the commission set up after the council to interpret its decrees.  With no official guidance in the matter, it is left for each individual to invest the term with the meaning and import he sees fit.

Indeed, the principle of dialogue is invoked to explain and excuse all sorts of public behavior on the part of high-ranking Church officials that would have been grounds for deposition in any century before Vatican II.  In the name of inter-religious dialogue Cardinal Law enters an Islamic mosque and prays to Allah[17], Cardinal George participates in a pagan “cleansing ritual”[18], and the Holy Father kisses the Koran and invites pagans of all stripes to Assisi to pray to their false gods for world peace.[19]  Very recently I called the diocese of Springfield, IL to ask why a pro-abortion Jewish rabbi had been invited to the cathedral to participate with Bishop Lucas in an “Interfaith Worship Service” entitled “Neighbors Mirroring the Image of God”.  When I asked how the diocese could, at a gathering so-titled, honor someone who doesn’t even believe that unborn babies bear the image of God in sufficient measure to protect them from arbitrary execution, I was read a statement by Bishop Lucas stating that he is following the example of the Holy Father by maintaining lines of dialogue even with people with whom he has disagreements.  (The same defense was offered by Cardinal George to The Wanderer’s complaint about his participation in pagan purification rituals.)  The invocation of the Holy Father’s example is designed to stop neo-Catholic objectors in their tracks, which it does.  But a traditionalist like me replies that bad example is bad example and scandal is scandal, no matter who perpetrates them.

Certain other effects of the pervasive program of dialogue are less obvious, but no less harmful to the Church.  For example, in a recent issue of Catholic World Report, the editor, Philip Lawler, makes this perceptive connection between the regime of dialogue and the Vatican’s almost complete unwillingness to discipline wayward Catholics, even in the face of sweeping scandals:


In the cover story of this issue, James Hitchcock makes a provocative argument that since the Second Vatican Council, Church leaders seem to have been guided by the principle that all disagreements can be resolved through dialogue, so that disobedience and dissent are best met with patience and understanding, not firm disciplinary measures.  The results generated by that approach have not been promising.  Disobedience and dissent have spread unchecked, doing incalculable damage to the faith and the faithful.[20]


Numerous other examples could be cited, but I think this is sufficient to demonstrate that the undefined neologism “dialogue”, the central theme of the Second Vatican Council, has indeed jeopardized the Tradition on numerous fronts, marking it as a harmful novelty.


Novelty in Practice:


Today we are faced with a significant number of breaches with perennial custom which, I would argue, fall into the category of novelty as defined by the council fathers of Nicea II.  Take Communion in the hand, for example. On the eve of Vatican II there was no rite of the Catholic Church or even in Eastern Orthodoxy in which Holy Communion was given in the hand; the practice had been extinct for centuries in every single Christian body possessing valid apostolic succession.  And for good reason: it leads naturally and directly both to loss of faith in the Real Presence and to the kind of sacrilege that Pope Paul VI himself warned about in Memoriale Domini:


A change in a matter of such moment, based on a most ancient and venerable tradition, does not merely affect discipline.  It carries certain dangers with it which may arise from the new manner of administering holy communion: the danger of a loss of reverence for the august sacrament of the altar, of profanation, of adulterating the true doctrine.[21]


Now what was the deciding factor that prompted Paul VI to ignore all these dangers and allow such a break with the Church’s universal and immemorial custom?  Did his decision stem from a great groundswell of orthodox Catholics whose piety and love of the Eucharist prompted them to petition the Holy Father to allow them to receive in the hand?  Of course not.  We all know that it was liberals, dissenters, heretics who were agitating for this change and flagrantly disobeying the Church’s norms.  And why?  Because they no longer believed in transubstantiation and the sacrificial nature of the Mass and they, like their heretical Protestant forebears, knew that one way to break down belief in the Real Presence is to allow every Tom, Dick, and Sally to handle the Blessed Sacrament with their unconsecrated hands.  I would argue, then, that in the historical context in which it was introduced this practice was a novelty of precisely the kind condemned by the fathers of Nicea II.  And it is evident to those with eyes to see that it has in fact brought all of the loss of faith and sacrilege predicted in Memoriale Domini.  And that is why opposition to this practice continues in traditionalist circles.

Similarly, female altar servers had been explicitly and repeatedly resisted by the Roman Pontiffs, even by Pope John Paul II as late as 1980 in Inaestimabile Donum.  As Fr. Brian Harrison points out:


[I]n the case of a religious tradition which has not only existed, but has been consciously, continuously, and emphatically reaffirmed and insisted upon for two millennia, there must be an enormous and overwhelming presumption that such a tradition reflects the will of Christ.  And this is in fact the case with the tradition against female altar service.[22]


But in 1994, Pope John Paul II officially approved the use of females in service at the altar, an action that broke what was in reality a 4,000 year tradition spanning both Judaic and Christian practice of exclusively male altar service.  Alice von Hildebrand notes the difficulty that this papal action poses for devout Catholics:


Not only did the papal about-face reward disobedience (many bishops had allowed this practice in their dioceses in disregard of the Holy See) but, once again, the sacred cord of tradition has been dangerously frayed.  God, as St. Augustine reminds us, can always bring good out of evil, but the fact remains that the spiritual life of the faithful is once again put to a severe test.[23]


And again, one need only ask who was agitating for this change.  It should be obvious to all orthodox Catholics that the motivation behind pressing females into service at the altar was to undermine the Church’s perennial Tradition of an all-male priesthood.  Again, it seems to me that we are in the presence of a manifest novelty.  And could we not say the same of so many changes to the Mass in the post-conciliar era: of Mass said facing the people and entirely in a loud voice, of Communion given standing and in the hand by ordinary (who’s fooling whom that they’re “extraordinary”?) lay Eucharistic ministers of mixed gender, of Communion given under both species at every Mass, of the high altar replaced by a free-standing, table-form altar, of women attending Mass with their heads bare, of women lectors, of the complete opening of the sanctuary to lay people of both genders to the point where the very idea of a sanctuary has passed out of most Catholics’ understanding, of the Mass said entirely in the vernacular using theologically defective translations bearing Vatican approval—including the truly scandalous translation of pro multis as “for all” in the Canon?  A great many more examples could be gleaned from ecumenical and inter-religious activity, the formation of priests and religious, religious education, indeed from just about every aspect of the Church’s life since Vatican II.  Some of these changes were passed off accompanied by an appeal to practices of antiquity, although in all too many cases these claims turned out to be fraudulent.  Other changes have no precedent in Catholic practice whatever.  But each and every one of those cited above has behind it the motivation to erode the grip of Catholic Tradition in the minds and hearts of the faithful.  They are novelties.[24]  And the response to those novelties by orthodox Catholics is what separates traditionalists from neo-Catholics.  In each case neo-Catholics have capitulated to the changes once they gained Vatican approval, while traditionalists have refused to “get with the program” on the grounds that something that jeopardized the Faith prior to the Vatican’s approval is no less likely to do so after gaining such approval.


A Regime of Novelty:


The authors of The Great Facade argue that we are living in the midst of what they term a “regime of novelty” within the Roman Catholic Church.  And indeed, it is quite remarkable that, so close on the heels of the pronouncements of many Popes of the nineteenth and twentieth century urging Catholics to hold fast to all that had been handed on to them and warning against those who wished to harm the Church through the introduction of injurious novelty, there came a period in which the Popes began to speak with great enthusiasm of the possibility of renewing the Church precisely through “newness”, “novelty”, and “innovation”.  Pope Paul VI said this concerning the “charter” of novelty that was unleashed by the Second Vatican Council:


We desire to make our own the important words used by the council, the words which define its spirit, and in a dynamic synthesis form the spirit of all those who place their confidence in it, whether they be in or outside of the Church. The [key] word is novelty (nouveaute), a simple word, in common usage, and most dear to the hearts of modern man. . . This word . . . has been given to us as a command and as a program.[25]


And certainly Pope Paul VI did not hesitate to affirm the novelty of various reforms.  For example, as noted in TGF, he explicitly speaks of the Novus Ordo Mass as “this novelty” and “this innovation”:


We must prepare for this many-sided inconvenience.  It is the kind of upset caused by every novelty that breaks in on our habits. . . . This novelty is no small thing. . . . We should not let ourselves be surprised by the nature, or even the nuisance, of its exterior forms.  As intelligent persons and conscientious faithful we should find out as much as we can about this innovation.[26]


Pope John Paul II continues to speak in this same way concerning the conciliar and post-conciliar reforms.  He notes that there have been some difficulties in the post-conciliar era, resulting in confusion.  Indeed, he recognizes, at least to an extent, that these difficulties have been caused by sudden changes in the Church: “However, it must be recognized that this was also influenced by the very novelty of the pastoral direction arising from the Council.  The impact on formulas of long tradition was not without complications.  At times there was talk even of an ‘identity crisis.’”[27]  But ultimately the Holy Father makes no apologies for either the suddenness, the scope, or the incessant nature of the post-conciliar changes.  In fact, he sees “newness” and “novelty” as an integral part of the Church’s landscape since Vatican II:


Entrusting myself fully to the Spirit of truth, therefore, I am entering into the rich inheritance of the recent pontificates.  This inheritance has struck deep roots in the awareness of the Church in an utterly new way, quite unknown previously, thanks to the Second Vatican Council, which John XXIII convened and opened and which was later successfully concluded and perseveringly put into effect by Paul VI . . . . [28]


Although he warns of abuses, he also told a gathering of over 200 bishops and theologians meeting to discuss the implementation of Vatican II that, “it is necessary not to lose the genuine intention of the Council Fathers; on the contrary, it must be recovered, overcoming cautious and partial interpretations that impede expressing to the maximum the novelty of the Council Magisterium.”[29]  The authors of TGF quite rightly ask when any Pope has spoken of the “novelty” of the Church’s Magisterium?  This is a striking departure from the parlance even of the Roman Pontiffs just a few decades before.  But the Holy Father went further, insisting that “newness” is an integral facet of the Church’s patrimony: “What has been believed by ‘everyone, always and everywhere’ is the authentic newness that enables every era to perceive the light that comes from the word of God's Revelation in Jesus Christ.”[30]

As the authors of TGF rightly ask, if “newness” has been believed “always, everywhere, and by all” then why do we not find evidence in the Fathers, Doctors, Popes and Councils saying so?  Clearly we are not in the realm of a doctrinal proposition that has been taught by the ordinary Magisterium.  So this “newness”, “novelty”, and “innovation” of which these post-conciliar Popes speak cannot be considered a doctrine to which Catholics must give assent; rather, the insistence on “newness”, “novelty”, and “innovation” as ways to reform the Church is clearly a matter of prudential judgment and policy.  As such, traditionalists are perfectly free respectfully to voice their opposition to such a course of action.  But although this does not comprise a matter of Church doctrine, I do think that the case can be made that this notion of perennial “newness” is itself a harmful novelty.  For certainly it can be argued that, far from helping to “renew” the Church, constant change has instead generated a constant state of turmoil.  As Msgr. Klaus Gamber notes, specifically with regard to liturgical changes, the constant barrage of changes has magnified their harm:


Particularly pernicious in this respect is the incessant nature of the changes to which we are subjected.  This is diametrically opposed to the concept of liturgy as our home.  To constantly change a ritual and to abolish almost completely time-honored customs and traditions is synonymous with robbing a person of his religious home and thus shaking the foundations of his faith.[31]


This is why traditionalists object to such recent papal actions as adding new mysteries to the Rosary, an opposition that Gutierrez finds troubling.  One would have thought that the Holy Father could see that decades of change upon change have brought about tremendous confusion on the part of the faithful.  Every sacramental rite of the Church has been radically “revised” and a great many traditional devotions suppressed, at least on the local level.  For many Catholics—especially those from whom the traditional Roman Rite of the Mass has been forcibly wrenched—the Rosary remained their most precious link with their traditional Catholic faith.  It remains a mystery to me, no pun intended, that after all the devastation we see around us some could still have the perception that tampering with immemorial and venerable customs will bring about renewal instead of additional chaos.

How does the neo-Catholic try to defend all this?  Ultimately, as we have seen in the example of Mr. Gutierrez’s erroneous understanding of the use of the phrase “Roman Catholic Church” which he had to retract, the neo-Catholic is forced time and again to dream up his own set of novelties in order to shield the present Vatican apparatus from any responsibility for the crisis that grips the Church.  So we hear constantly such novel notions as the excuse that the new principle of “collegiality” excuses the Roman Pontiff from the responsibility of disciplining men of bad character whom he appointed to the episcopate, that schism is worse than heresy and so this justifies leaving brazen heretics within the bosom of the Church, or that calling pagans together to pray to their false gods for worldly favors is really perfectly in line with the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas.  What an increasing number of us have found is that the neo-Catholic position demands a suspension of reason and common sense on the part of those who cling to it.

I think that the evidence I've presented here on the nature of novelty throughout Church history vindicates the thesis of The Great Facade and deflects from its authors charges of intellectual dishonesty and carelessness.  But ultimately this isn't about vindicating either that book or its authors.  This is about a terrible illness that grips our Holy Mother Church.  The Fathers, Doctors and Popes have repeatedly and emphatically warned of the corrosive effect that novelty and innovation in ecclesiastical matters have on the Body of Christ.  Unfortunately, in the wake of Vatican II, those warnings have not been heeded and we find ourselves in what the authors of The Great Facade have rightly termed a regime of novelty.

One point to be stressed is that in labeling these things as novelties neither I nor the authors of The Great Facade are making a formal, canonical charge against any individual in the Catholic Church. Rather, we are simply making the case that, because these changes are in fact novelties, they can be expected to harm the Church, that the evidence shows that they have in fact done so, and that therefore these novelties should be rescinded and no further innovation allowed.  But for that to happen a great many high-ranking prelates in the Catholic Church will need to have a change of heart and mind.  This may seem a presumptuous statement to some, but I believe it is based on a realistic assessment of our present circumstances; circumstances not unlike those faced by faithful Catholics during the Arian heresy:


The body of bishops failed in their confession of the Faith…. They spoke variously, one against another; there was nothing, after Nicea, of firm, unvarying, consistent testimony, for nearly sixty years. There were untrustworthy Councils, unfaithful bishops; there was weakness, fear of consequences, misguidance, delusion, hallucination, endless, hopeless, extending into nearly every corner of the Catholic Church. The comparatively few who remained faithful were discredited and driven into exile; the rest were either deceivers or deceived.[32]


To resist the present regime of novelty and remain a faithful Catholic is to take on a heavy burden.  It was hard enough for me to strain and break relationships with Protestant family and friends after being given the grace to convert to the True Faith.  It is harder yet to strain and break more relationships in my new Catholic spiritual family after coming to unpopular conclusions about how this family is being fathered.  It is agonizing to live amidst a diseased and dying flock and watch while the shepherds continue to prescribe more and more of the very “medicine” that made the flock so desperately ill in the first place.  To be triply marginalized—first as a Christian in a pagan culture, then as an orthodox Catholic in a Church awash in heretics, then as a traditionalist amidst the ooing and ahing of neo-Catholics about the “greatness” and “brilliance” of the present regime—is wearisome.  And it is no fun to be a pariah in one's own Church, the very place that was supposed to be home.  In terms of “creature comforts”, traditionalism doesn't have a lot to commend itself.  But ultimately I think the case is made well and cogently that we are indeed living in a regime of novelty within the Roman Catholic Church, and that this profusion of novelty threatens to harm my family’s faith.  And that reality makes bearing the burden of traditionalism an imperative.

In his fabulous book Characters of the Inquisition, William Thomas Walsh states that in medieval Spain the Inquisition would burn you at the stake for proclaiming that the Pope was not the Vicar of Christ, but that you were free to say publicly that the Pope was a scoundrel and the Inquisition would leave you alone.[33]  Today, in our topsy-turvy Church, that is somewhat reversed.  Hans Kung can publicly proclaim heresies on Papal infallibility/primacy, Christology, and Trinitarian theology and the modern equivalent of the Grand Inquisitor will say that, "I respect his path, which he takes in accord with his conscience.”[34]  Despite his numerous public heresies, Kung remains a priest in good standing.  On the other hand, if you merely question the prudence of such policies as ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue, and the liturgical “reform”, decline to expose your family to things that you believe in conscience are harmful to them (which is what the much-touted “resistance” to papal policies amounts to), and call for their reversal, you are denounced as an integrist at best, a schismatic at worst by the neo-Catholic community.  The irony is that at least the Inquisition had Church approval to move against individuals.  The neo-Catholic community has no such authority, but constantly acts as if it does.


It has to stop.  The numbers and zeal of neo-Catholics would present a formidable shift in the dynamics of the Church, if only they would join the traditionalist movement, as I have.  And so I add my voice to that of Michael Matt, calling on my Catholic brothers at The Wanderer to please, stop defending the indefensible.  Abandon the regime of novelty and join us in the defense of Catholic Tradition.


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[1] St. Augustine, Epistle 54, chap.5, no.6;  Emphasis mine here and throughout unless otherwise noted.


[2] St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, hom.7, v.14;


[3] St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, chap. 6;


[4] Pope St. Leo I, Epistle10, no.1;


[5] Pope St. Leo I, Epistle19, no.1;


[6] Pope St. Gregory the Great, Epistles, Book VIII, Epistle 34;






[9] Summa Theologica Ia Iiae q.97 a.2;


[10] Instruction of the Sacred Congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, January 27, 1902; cited in Pope Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis §55;


[11] Pope Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis §42; emphasis his.


[12] Pope Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis §49.


[13] Pope Benedict XV, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, §25;  Note that Benedict XV is here quoting his predecessor, Pope St. Stephen I whom I quoted above as part of a citation from St. Vincent of Lerins.  This definitely bolsters the traditionalist use of that patristic text to support our contention that the idea of novelty extends to observances and customs as well as doctrines.


[14] Romano Amerio, Iota Unum: A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church. trans. from the 2nd Italian ed. by J. P. Parsons. (Kansas City, MO: Sarto House, 1996),  p.103.


[15] Jean Cardinal Daniélou, Why the Church? trans. M. F. DeLange. (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1975), p. 6.


[16] Amerio, Iota Unum, pp. 101-2.


[17]It was Sunday, and Cardinal Bernard F. Law had come to pray. So, wearing a gold crucifix and a flowing black robe with red trim, Law removed his shoes. Then, as the imam chanted the sunset prayers, the bishop knelt with his forehead just inches from the carpet and offered praise to Allah” (“Cardinal Law Shares Prayers, Feast, Hope with Muslims”, Boston Globe, 25 November 2002).


[18] K. Maurer, “Cardinal George Joins ‘Purification Ceremony’ in Toronto”, The Wanderer, August 8, 2002.


[19]The event of Assisi can thus be considered as a visible illustration, an exegesis of the events, a catechesis, intelligible to all, of what is presupposed and signified by the commitment to ecumenism and to the inter-religious dialogue which was recommended and promoted by the Second Vatican Council” (Pope John Paul II, Address of December 22, 1986;


[20] Philip Lawler, “Limits of Dialogue”, Catholic World Report, May 2003, p. 1.


[21] Pope Paul VI, Memoriale Domini;


[22] Brian Harrison, “‘Altar Girls’: Feminist Ideology and the Roman Liturgy”;


[23] Alice Von Hildebrand, “The Sacredness of Tradition”, Homiletic & Pastoral Review. April 1995, pp. 26-31 & 46‑47;


[24] In my own survey of the term “novelty” in ecclesiastical documents I ran onto this passage from John Paul II’s Inaestimabile Donum: “Knowledge of the history of the Liturgy will likewise contribute to an understanding of the changes which have been introduced, and introduced not for the sake of novelty but as a revival and adaptation of authentic and genuine tradition” (Inaestimabile Donum §27;  Similarly, Gutierrez cites John Paul II in which he insists that the liturgical “reform” has been entirely traditional: “This work was undertaken in accordance with the conciliar principles of fidelity to tradition and openness to legitimate development, . . . and so it is possible to say that the reform of the Liturgy is strictly traditional and in accordance with the ancient usage of the holy Fathers” (Vicesimus Quintus Annus §4;


Alas, when confronted with such statements, I feel like Galileo who (probably apocryphally) is reputed to have said under his breath after recanting his theory that the earth moves, “E pur si muove [‘Nevertheless, it moves’]”  In fact, it is demonstrable that many of the changes introduced into the liturgy have no basis in authentic Catholic tradition whatsoever.  And the more one learns of the personalities to whom the liturgical “renewal” was entrusted, the more it becomes evident that it was precisely for the sake of novelty—in order to erode the genuine Catholic sense of the faithful—that all too many changes were made.  As Msgr. Gamber said quite plainly: “One thing is certain: the new (liberal) theology was a major force behind the liturgical reforms.” (Reform, p. 44).  Many specific examples may be found in Klaus Gamber’s, Reform of the Roman Liturgy and Michael Davies’ Pope Paul’s New Mass.


[25] Pope Paul VI, General Audience of July 2, 1969.


[26] Pope Paul VI, General Audience, November 26, 1969;


[27] Pope John Paul II, Angelus address of February 15, 1987; cited from HLI Pro-life CD-ROM.


[28] Pope John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis §3;


[29] Pope John Paul II, “Vatican II Was Spirit's Gift to the Church”, L'Osservatore Romano, March 8, 2000, pp. 4 & 11.


[30] Ibid.


[31] Gamber Reform, p. 110.


[32] John Henry Newman, On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine (Kansas City: Sheed and Ward, 1961), p. 77; cited in The Great Facade.


[33] W. T. Walsh, Characters of the Inquisition. (New York: Macmillan, 1940; reprint Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1987), pp. 200-201.


[34] Joseph Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth. (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1997), p. 96.