Sandro Magister has written a new article — The Defenders of Tradition Want the Infallible Church Back. He bases his observations on a newly-published book by the Italian philosopher Romano Amerio, who was also a Catholic traditionalist and critic of the post-Vatican II Church.
Looking at the crisis that has hit the Church, particularly from the 1960’s, it is easy to conclude that the Church was in a “normal” and “pure” condition in the 1950’s and the first years of the 1960’s, and then — as Newman said concerning the Church in Arian times – suffered a “suspension of the functions of the teaching Church.” In short, there would seem to have been a rupture in the Church’s history. One will instantly conclude that if this is so, to an absolute extent, then this affects the entire credibility of Catholicism. From this comes the intellectual construction of justifying the Church by separating the Church as the ontological sacrament of Christ and mystical body from the official institution. There is a small minority of traditionalists who believe, like the monks of Mount Athos, that any contact with the official Church institution separates the believer from the true Church. But, let us not be distracted.
Catholics believe that the Church is indefectible (as distinct from infallible). The Church might be reduced to very little, but would never absolutely cease to exist. Apologetics have their limits.
The way I see things in the Catholic Church is that many of the ills we see are the result of deconstructionist and heretical movements that sought to achieve the point at which Anglicanism has arrived — in Catholicism. If we read Spong’s Twelve Theses, and study cultural Marxism and deconstructionism, we will see the extreme caricature of less extreme forms of the apostasy.
The present Holy Father has written extensively about the crisis in Catholicism, and it is legitimate to talk of such a situation in the Catholic Church. The big problem is knowing what the authorities of the Church should do about it. We find in Magister’s article a new tendency among some Roman Thomist theologians to question the entire basis of Vatican II. The question now is one of whether the authorities of the Church should reassert an infallible and coercive Magisterium. It won’t happen under Benedict XVI, if we look at the differences between him and Cardinal Ottaviani during the Council, but could it happen under a future Pope?
Some of the prelates in the Roman Curia and various dioceses would like to envisage a purer and stricter Church, a simple return to the status quo ante of the 1950’s, as the priests and bishops of the Society of St Pius X would have it. You just simply wipe out the Council and airbrush out all the years from 1965 to 2011, 2012 or whenever. Would such a Church be any more than a caricature with infallible definitions served up every day for breakfast and anathemas and excommunications all round? This is no less absurd than a group pretending to have returned to “pristine antiquity” with a sixteenth century liturgy and repeating parrot-fashion that “Rome hath erred.”
But, on the other side, the Pope keeps issuing documents and exhortations that are mostly ignored, a dead letter before they come off the printing press. Many dioceses of the Church are being run by bishops who believe like Schori and Spong, and would act accordingly if they could get away with it. Surely, coercion is necessary if any restoration of the Church is to be more than empty talk like the worn-out old so-called “ecumenical dialogue”.
For traditionalists, if the abandoning of authority and coercion are the causes of the crisis in the post-conciliar Church, then it would be necessary to return to reinforced clericalism and authoritarianism. These are perhaps the aspects of Catholicism that are the most foreign to the English and Anglican spirit, and which cause the most fear, even for those of traditionalist or “moderate” leanings.
In Sandro Magister’s article, the question comes up about what should be decreed by the great infallible authority. Romano Amerio identified the same three points that form stumbling blocks between the Society of St Pius X and Rome:
- the notion in Vatican II that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church instead of saying that it is the Catholic Church; [This would seem to be a concession to our old branch theory.]
- the notion that Christians worship the same God worshiped by the Jews and Muslims;
- the declaration on religious freedom in Dignitatis Humanae, essentially affirming that people have a right not to be constrained against their conscience and to be allowed freedom of religion [including error] within the limits of public law and order.
Pope Benedict XVI seems to have been clear that he does not share the position of those who would promote this proposed return to intransigent Catholicism. As for subscribing to the branch theory or similar notions, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared in 2007 that the subsists in is to be understood as a continuity of meaning from the identity between the Church and the Catholic Church, and that there was a legitimate development between the two ideas.
I personally share the position expressed by the present Pope on the conciliar teaching concerning religious freedom, that there is also a legitimate development between the old position of the Magisterium and that of Vatican II. Father Brian W. Harrison, an Australian Catholic priest and theologian, has studied the question extensively:
A certain number of Anglicans fear this reversion of the Catholic Church to the “intransigent” position, but I hardly see it ever happening. The Society of St Pius X hardly represents even the position of conservative and orthodox Catholics, many of whom worship according to the old Latin liturgy, and certainly not with the majority of Rome-bound Anglicans.
Unlike the “Taliban” traditionalists, I see many positive things in the teaching of Vatican II. I refuse the “one thing bad, everything bad” outlook on life. Following the example of Newman, we see developments in ecclesiology and a more spiritual and less materialistic definition of the Church. The subsists in expression of Lumen Gentium is not an expression of indifferentism or some half-baked branch theory, but an expression of modern ecclesiology and a richer understanding of the Church and Tradition. The Church in her sacramental and metaphysical reality subsists in the outward visible signs of the institution, the clergy, communities of faithful, the family and every other manifestation of the incarnate Christ in the world. I would venture to say that the Church also subsists in other conditions that manifest the Church’s sacramental and metaphysical reality, at least to some extent — the plenitude being in communion with the Holy See. To go back to Bellarmine and Suarez now, back to the repressive “anti-Modernist” atmosphere of the 1900's, would be madness.
Are the Allah of the Muslims and the Yahweh of the Jews the same God as the Father of the Trinitarian Godhead we worship in spirit and truth? Can we say with any certitude? Certainly, Jews and Muslims don’t believe in the Trinity or the incarnation of Christ’s divinity in his humanity, but does that mean they worship some deity other than the God of Abraham and Isaac, especially when their Scriptures define God in exactly the same terms as in the Old Testament of our Bible? This polemic device of traditionalists really does exasperate me. I am inclined to think they do worship the same God as we do –since there is objectively only one God. There is no other, unless the other monotheists are idolaters or atheists, and there is no evidence to suppose that. Both Jews and Muslims condemn idolatry in no uncertain terms and they are not atheists. The real notion held by traditionalists is that Muslims and Jewish people should be exposed to persecution and discrimination by Christians, and all dialogue and all recognition of their quality of sincere religious people cut off and refused. I see where all that went in the Hitler era — enough! Dialogue with other religions need not compromise the identity of Christians or even our claim to adhere to the truth. We should think for ourselves, and the world would be a more peaceful place for our posterity!
The last element, that of the question of religious freedom, is important for us Anglicans. We should be embracing the Catholic faith, not because we fear persecution and punishment, but because we have been attracted by the beauty of liturgy and holiness, and have become intellectually convinced by objective truth. The intégristes hold up examples of Franco's Spain and Pinochet's Chile as Catholic expressions of Christ's Kingdom. Some priests and bishops actually supported Hitler’s regime during the war! There is sickening evidence that some bishops and priests collaborated with evil and hoped to use it as a tool for “promoting the social kingship of Christ” and this is just as much a stinking abscess as paedophile priests. I am glad Vatican II took away the basis for putting people in concentration camps, torturing, executing and otherwise persecuting and penalising people simply because they are not Catholics. Thank goodness! Perhaps, things could have been better and more clearly expressed, but that can always be a project in the future for the Pope.
Our blessed Lord himself said to Pilate – My Kingdom is not of this world. It is a kingdom of the spirit, not a political dictatorship.
Let us Anglicans be careful about what kind of Catholic Church we want. Let us also be wary of the ideas of a minority of Catholics who would have us in a position of submission and humiliation rather than being welcomed as dignified humans ready to contribute and bring something fresh and new to a Church that hasn’t finished learning. Vatican II was not wrong about a pilgrim Church, as long as that expression doesn’t take away any right of the Church to be a mother or the Pope to be a father, the Holy Father in Christ’s name, as long as it doesn’t mean that churches have to be made ugly at great expense to appear poor.
I believe in Pope Benedict XVI’s way of persuading and teaching those of us who have a mind open enough to learn and enquire. Perhaps his gentle and convincing words fall on many deaf ears. There is the whole drama of faith and reason, the sanctification of humanity and not its abolition and destruction. I am convinced this Pope and what he is trying to build are right.
I never cease saying it. We Rome-bound Anglicans are called to bring our freshness and otherness into the Church to contribute to her wealth and beauty.
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