Catholic Apologetics

Intro

 

This essay is a response to a blog post entitled Why I Left The SSPX Milieu at The Sensible Bond[1].  The author is, apparently, a former Society of St. Pius Xth priest who is no longer amenable to the Traditionalist position whatever.  His essay was recently re-posted by Church Militant TV, a neo-Catholic organization virulently hostile to Traditionalists.

 

“Ches” (a pseudonym) comments that he penned the piece in response to “libelous explanations” as to why he departed the Society.  I know nothing of that and would certainly not doubt his assertions or honesty.  However, despite the statement that he does “not offer these lines as a refutation of the SSPX case”, the piece is clearly oriented toward that end and has been used as such by a number of other organizations.  I was asked personally, by someone who does not affiliate with the Society, to address the concerns “Ches” puts forth.

 

The author’s argument apparently holds water in certain circles due to the mere fact that he was formerly a Society priest.  But this is really nothing more than an instance of a common modern logical fallacy:

 

i)              Subject X accepted Position A [to a strong degree]

ii)            Subject X then abandoned Position A 

iii)           Position A is thus [likely] false

 

The fallacy lies in the assumption that Subject A’s conclusions are objectively valid.  It’s an entirely subjective argument (modern people frequently have a difficult time properly distinguishing the subjective from the objective); X abandoning A could easily to due to some weakness or failure of X entirely unrelated to A.

 

(We Catholics are happy to hear such stories as Reverend Smith, the long-time Protestant “Bible Christian” pastor who embraces the one, true faith after an intense period of study of Scripture and history, yet those same “Bible Christians” trumpet many stories of the inverse: Mr. Jones becomes a “Bible Christian” once he learns that the Catholic Church has “invented” “un-Biblical” doctrines, etc.  Neither Smith nor Mr. Jones’ acceptance or rejection of either creed has anything to do with the objective, provable truth that Jones has no idea what he’s talking about.)

 

With that, we will look at the assertions made in the article.

 

Schismatic?

 

The author approvingly quotes Fr. Paul Aulagnier’s statement that, “on their current course [2003], the SSPX were on, or risked following, a schismatic trajectory.” 

 

First, we might examine the lack of any substantive meaning in this phrase.  One is either schismatic or is not.  As the current catechism says, “schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”[2]  (Note that disobedience of specific commands (especially if done out of obedience to divine law) does not in itself constitute schism, and that the Society has always recognized the pontiff’s right to rule; more below.)  What is “following a schismatic trajectory” (much less risking same)?  One could, with as much relevance and sense, claim that those American neo-conservatives who criticize Pope Francis’ environmental and economic teachings risk “following a schismatic trajectory”.

 

The Society (which consists of its bishops and priests, not those Catholics who assist at Society Masses) is simply not schismatic in legal or other terms precisely because they have always recognized the pope: recognized his sovereign authority over all Catholics, and fervently sought an end to their irregular canonical status (the actual reality according to the Vatican).

 

“The society is schismatic” is probably the #1 argument leveled at the Society in general.  However, it really is and always has been more of a simple slur, since an understanding of the meaning of the word coupled with even a cursory examination of the Society’s history and positions demonstrate that it is a charge without merit.  Don’t take my word for it, but you may be interested in what Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, as the leader of Ecclesia Dei (the very Vatican organ charged with dealing with the Society), had to say on the matter.  There were, during his tenure (2000-2009), at least five occasions where he stated, publicly, that the SSPX priests and bishops were not in schism.  Here is one such statement: “…the situation of separation came about, even if it was not a formal schism.”[3]  Another: “The bishops, priests and faithful of the Society of St Pius X are not schismatics.”[4]

 

More recently, we have this statement from Monsignor Juan Ignacio Arrieta of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts: “We can say that the problem with the SSPX is only a problem of trust, because they are people who pray, people who believe the same things we believe in… they have their heart in Rome.  I can assure you of that since I know them well” [emphasis mine].[5]

 

Dr. George May, Professor of Canon Law, had this to say: “The SSPX is not schismatic because she neither rejects the subordination to the Roman Pontiff nor rejects the communion with the bishops… Rather, the latter reject communion with the Society” [emphasis mine].[6]

 

Furthermore, numerous reports of personal correspondence with the commission with regards to Mass attendance have consistently reported that the PCED has always asserted that Catholics may assist at Society Masses with no personal sin and no canonical penalty as long as those souls doing so hold no schismatic spirit. 

 

Is the Vatican in the habit of allowing schismatics to say Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica itself?[7]  This occurred not long ago.  (And is not the notion of a schismatic priest who would desire to do so an absurd contradiction in terms at that?)

 

Finally, it is a fact that in 2015 Pope Francis explicitly granted Society priests jurisdiction to hear confessions.  This was unnecessary, as supplied jurisdiction already existed, but quite relevant to this question as it is undeniable that a schismatic priest cannot be given normal jurisdiction to absolve!

 

Here’s what I know via the personal experience of assisting at Society of St. Pius Xth Masses for approximately 2.5 years: The priests and faithful there want nothing more, and nothing else, than to believe and practice the Catholic Faith whole and inviolate, which includes submission to the Vicar of Christ, whose image is displayed prominently in the sacristy.

 

Though I am quite aware that there are many well-meaning souls who simply do not understand the Society’s history, purpose, or attitude – I used to be among them – I would contend that oftentimes words like “schismatic” are motivated by something else.  Pope Benedict XVI had this to say regarding the Society and his dealings with them: “At times one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate. And should someone dare to approach them - in this case the Pope - he too loses any right to tolerance; he too can be treated hatefully, without misgiving or restraint.”[8]

 

The Society’s Mission

 

“Ches” remarks, “Until the late 1990s I think I assumed that one of these days Rome would realize the great errors of the Council and turn to the SSPX for help, and the SSPX would come riding to the rescue. After the moment came and went for a potential reconciliation in 2001, I changed this view and began to imagine that the future reform of the Church might be something more piecemeal, and certainly not as glorious as a full vindication of ABL…. how does this SSPX story end? What logic actually brings the SSPX situation to a final conclusion? When the Church corrects all her errors, presumably…?”

 

These are interesting comments.  They seem to reveal some sort of impatience that facts did not play out according to some kind of assumed timetable.  Who can how long this crisis will last?  How long did that which the arch-heretic Arius initiated, and how long was it before Bishop Athanasius, excommunicated for upholding the faith, was made saint and Doctor of the Church?

 

The Society’s mission has always been the same: to maintain the Faith whole and inviolate, as it had been believed and practiced throughout the entire Church’s history up until the revolution[9] that was the Second Vatican Council, that enigma of an ecumenical council that, unlike all preceding it, issued neither condemnations of error or infallible teaching.[10]

 

He continues, "But is it not possible, I wondered, that in never coming to meet Rome, not necessarily halfway but at least somewhere along the path, the SSPX might never reconcile? Does the position of the SSPX not ignore the fact that solutions can often be very messy and painful?”

 

If the Society is correct in its assessment of the Church[11] and thus in its own purpose, these things will happen in good time.  A post-conciliar pontiff who no longer embraces the Masonic, modernist principles its architects brazenly paid homage to will arise and will arrest the Bride of Christ from the “Cult of Man”[12] it has championed.  Precisely as the Arians were eventually routed from their position of triumph and almost complete control of the machinery of the Church.

 

“Theological Considerations”

 

Here we come to what is, for me at least, the real meat of the matter.  The author presents the “private judgment” argument that so many neo-Catholics bring forth as a sort of trump card – and I will readily admit that its solution once gave me serious pause.  This argument is the assertion that to disagree with ecclesiastical authority (or at least the supreme pontiff), or to disagree with the teachings of an ecumenical council, is tantamount to the private judgment [of doctrine, dogma, and discipline] that is the domain of the Protestant.[13]

 

Here is the nutshell solution to the apparent conundrum:  Disagreement with “Church teaching” in the form of that which is non-infallible is nothing akin to Protestant private judgment because the latter concerns the individual defining doctrine itself,[14] while the former is the exercise of determining how individual documents and statements comport with the actual doctrine the Church has already defined!  These are, in actuality, two completely different processes driven by completely different goals.  The Catholic who applies his God-given gift of reason to understanding the faith and navigating his spiritual life is “judging” exactly as Christ has commanded us.[15]

 

Before continuing with our line of reasoning, let us take a look at what the theologians teach regarding the varying levels of assent owed to various faculties and facets of the Magisterium, including conciliar documents.

 

The Swiss theologian Cardinal Journey contrasted “those organs by which the magisterium can, when it acts with supreme intention, speak with absolute authority and irrevocably” with “the organs by which the magisterium can speak only with the prudential authority and in a non-definitive way” (emphasis in original).[16]  So we see that facets by which the magisterium is no more than “prudentially” authoritative exist.  (“Of course!” we might say, yet clearly this needs to be made explicit.)

 

Dom Paul Nau, O.S.B., speaking before the council, has this to say (with potent support) regarding the level of assent owed to statements of the Ordinary Magisterium: “…that of inward assent, not as of faith, but as of prudence, the refusal of which could not escape the mark of temerity, unless the doctrine rejected was an actual novelty of involved a manifest discordance between the pontifical affirmation and the doctrine which had hitherto been taught” (emphasis mine).[17]  It would seem that the theologians have accounted for “novelty” emanating from the mouths of churchmen – this is not some kind of absurdity.

 

Dr. Ludwig Ott, author of the landmark work Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, states, “The ordinary and usual form of papal teaching activity is not infallible.  Further, the decisions of the Roman Congregations (Holy Office, Bible Commission) are not infallible.  Nevertheless, normally they are to be accepted with an inner assert which is based on the high supernatural authority of the Holy See... The so-called silentium obsequiosum, that is 'reverent silence', does not generally suffice.  By way of exception the obligation of inner agreement may cease if a competent expert, after a renewed scientific investigation of all grounds, arrives with a positive conviction that the decision rests on an error” (emphasis mine).[18]  We have had many competent experts point out the ambiguities, confusion, and novelty in the documents of Vatican II, which, as the council itself was careful to point out, never intended to bind any Catholic soul to any new teaching.[19]

 

When our author muses, "Firstly, there is a difference between individual theological opinion and the Church’s magisterial judgment. It hadn’t really occurred to me before…”, what does he mean by “magisterial judgment”?  For judgments are exactly what is lacking in the purposefully ambiguous documents[20] of Vatican II.  The casual, non-scholastic language employed, coupled with novelties never before seen in any conciliar or encyclical document in the history of the Church, coupled with a deliberate intent to obfuscate or present contradictory assertions, leaves any sensible Catholic wondering just what, if anything, he is being asked to believe.   As the theologians have taught, one can only give assent to an actual position, which implies that such is expressed with clarity and precision.  Vatican II does not command assent, and it meant not to; one might well say that it commands assent to non-assent, to ambiguity itself raised to the status of a dogma.  For those who call this hyperbole, please see what Cardinal Kasper himself has to say, footnoted above.

 

We can see now a glimpse of the root neo-Catholic error: over-simplification.  To the neo-Catholic, there is, in practice, no difference between a dogma of the faith and any sentence or paragraph in any conciliar document or encyclical, and, sometimes, even any personal preference of the reigning pontiff.  However, as we see, what the Church Herself actually says is quite different: She says that churchmen may err, that not all documents command assent, and that it is The Faith Itself that is our guide.  The Faith is Tradition: The defined, infallible dogma & doctrine of the Church, which is synonymous with the Deposit of Faith handed down by Christ to the Apostles.  (This is one side of the contradictions Cardinal Kasper speaks of in the documents of Vatican II, according to both he & his allies and the traditionalists.)

 

St. Vincent of Lerins, the 4th century saint whose teachings were paramount in establishing the dogma of papal infallibility at Vatican I, says this: “What shall a Catholic do if some portion of the Church detaches itself from communion of the universal Faith? What other choice can he make if some new contagion attempts to poison, no longer a small part of the Church, but the whole Church at once, then his great concern will be to attach himself to antiquity which can no longer be led astray by any lying novelty” (emphasis mine).  Everyone who is intellectually honest and at least passingly familiar with the nature of modernism and the goals of the liberal conciliar periti knows that novelty was precisely their goal.

 

So, Tradition – the Faith, defined and unambiguous in dogma and other doctrine – is the Catholics guide, then and now.  The Catholic is required to use the gift of reason God created him with.  

 

Christ instituted the Church to lead souls to Heaven via the Sacraments as well as its teaching authority, which has given us the exposition of the Faith in the form of doctrine.  And, in normal times, the practical guidance of our prelates, near & far, as well as every jot & tittle of every ecumenical council could be counted upon to be solid food.  However, that is simply, manifestly not the case at the present time (even according to the post-conciliar popes themselves who lament this “silent apostasy” and “the tail of the devil… functioning in the disintegration of the Catholic world”).  When the Catholic who knows the faith see such obvious diabolical disorientation, when they see such a direct, monumental, and intentional break with the practical ramifications of dogma that have always been considered self-evident, the rejection of this novelty is the only possible path, to remain true to his intellect and to safeguard his soul.

 

We have seen that the theologians make clear that not every word of every document the Church produces is owed the assent of faith.  What, then, concerning the juridical realm?  Declares St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church: "Although it clearly follows from the circumstances that the Pope can err at times and command things which must not be done, that we are not to be simply obedient to him in all things, that does not show that he must not be obeyed by all when his commands are good. To know in what cases he is to be obeyed and in what not, it is said in the Acts of the Apostles, 'One ought to obey God rather than man': therefore, were the Pope to command anything against Holy Scripture, or the articles of faith, or the truths of the Sacraments, or the commands of natural or divine law, he ought not to be obeyed, but in such commands, to be passed over."  Saint and Doctor telling us with disarming nonchalance that “we are not to be simply obedient to [the pope] in all things”?  Is Bellarmine atypical in this regard?  Hardly (but we will skip the sea of quotes in the interest of space). 

 

How, then, does the modern Catholic who acquiesces to all things novel under the banner “Obedience” respond?  With his own proof-texting, of course, extolling the virtues of obedience.  But they all seem to miss this critical fact: Obedience is a moral virtue, which must remain subservient to the higher virtues – especially the theological virtues.  Like all moral virtues, it is indeed possible (unlike with the theological virtues!) to have a defect of excess of obedience: that is termed servility.  The supreme pontiff of the Church, who has, beyond all doubt, all authority on Earth, does have a superior, as do we all: Christ.  This is why Vatican I declared, “For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by His revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by His assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or Deposit of Faith transmitted by the Apostles” [emphasis mine].[21]

 

Neo-Catholics are horribly mistaken in their presumptive caricature of traditionalists (including Society members) as bitter, disobedient children.  The holy virtue of obedience, so extolled by so many saints, lies in the heart of the Society, but subservient, as it must be, to Faith, Hope, and Charity.

 

It is, rather, the papalotry at hold in the modern Church that is the real error and the real novelty; recognizing yet resisting novel prelates has always been the rule of the Church.[22]  This is why the faithful and churchmen en masse rebelled against John XXII’s (quite minor by today’s standards) novelty, why Paul rebuked Peter to his face (while still fully recognizing his right to rule), and why Bishop Athanasius, Saint and Doctor of the Church, sent forth priests loyal to Tradition (to Christ) to preach in Arian lands under the noses of Arian bishops – the diocesan structure in “full communion” at the time.

 

With this background, let’s look at a few selected quotes from this section of the article:

 

"It was at this stage that I also came to understand that even though Vatican II was, in its own language, a ‘pastoral’ and not a ‘dogmatic’ council, that doesn’t mean it was not a doctrinal council.”   

 

Unfortunately, this statement flies in the face of what the Church has told us regarding this council, unless the author refers to existing doctrine, in which case it is essentially meaningless.  It could also be taken to be nonsensical, since the pastoral is clearly distinct from doctrine – it is (or should be) the application of it – and pastoral is exactly what the highest authorities have called this council.

 

Vatican II is indeed quite unique in the history of Catholic ecumenical councils, being the sole example that issued neither anathema nor binding teaching.  We previously footnoted this quote from Archbishop Felici, General Secretary of Vatican II: “In view of conciliar practice and the pastoral purpose of the present Council, this sacred Synod defines matters of faith or morals as binding on the Church only when the Synod itself openly declares so.”  There are no such declarations to be found.  To be sure, as Archbishop Lefebvre noted on many occasions, much, if not most, of the council’s documents merely repeated existing doctrine and our fully orthodox.  No one takes issue with these things.

 

"Presumption rests in favour of the Church's teaching authority…” – it does indeed, in normal times.  Again, if someone does not recognize “the wheels have come off the bus”, there is little to do but pray.  It all comes down to that state of necessity that is clearly evident to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

 

"Those points where we do not recognize continuity must continue to be matters of reflection. But the promulgation of teachings by the Magisterium, even if they are only part of the authentic Magisterium, requires us to give religious assent of mind and will to their contents.”

 

We have seen that such an assertion is simply an error of oversimplification.  The author is incorrect regarding what is binding upon the Catholic and what is not, what requires the fullest level of consent and what does not.  I would also greatly prefer to be able to accept all that the Church in an ecumenical council gives me, but when my intellect tells me it contradicts actual doctrine anddemands a lesser level of assent, my will must abandon such  comfort.

 

Furthermore, at this point, while we can reflect all we want on the apparent lack of continuity in Nostra Aetate or Gaudium et Spes, when high-ranking conciliar proponents themselves tell us this is no accident, and when we have available thorough, first-hand documentation of the machinations that produced this effect,[23] we must move past that intellectual stage.  At some point, we must make a decision.  If we decide to give full assent to every document of the council, do we even know what we are giving assent to?  (I have found this to be a question that will absolutely stump very intelligent and knowledgeable Catholics hostile to the Traditionalist position: Name one actual teaching [faith and morals] of Vatican II that is binding upon the faithful.) 

 

Citing St. Vincent, he says, "But the problem here is in thinking that if I… judge there to be no continuity, then there is no continuity in fact. What, however, if other critics come to other conclusions?”

 

First, we have, again, the fact that the innovators were by no means shy in declaring their intentions: How far is the cry of “Revolution!” from the true spirit of the Church, to guard the Deposit of Faith with utmost vigilance, for the purpose of the salvation of souls, and thus to reject all novelty?  “Peter has no need for our lies or flattery,” wrote Fr. Melchior Cano, Bishop and Theologian of the Council of Trent, “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.”

 

It all comes down to necessity.  It is necessity that settles both the theological and canonical matters.  Do we have a state of necessity in the Church in the sense enshrined into canon law?  We, the Traditionalists (especially SSPX faith), say that we do, while Fr. Ches asserts that we can’t know that.  And so we come around the circle.  At some point, we know what we know.  Canon law doesn’t suggest the Church Herself declares a state of necessity; if such a thing were presumed there would be no purpose in the notion to begin with.

 

God will judge us on that matter.  This writer is fully at peace with that reality.  Arriving at that state is, I think, not an easy road for any faithful Catholic.  To the convert or the revert who is filled with holy love for the Church, the spotless Bride of Christ, the stench of the whitened sepulchers may be difficult to bear, but the clear knowledge of the Church indefectibility is the balm that relieves any unrest.  The Church does not subsists in any churchman, even the pontiff, and Her Immaculate Heart will triumph.

 

In Part II of this paper we will continue with the liturgical and canonical assertions made in Fr. Ches’ essay and our conclusions.

 


[1] http://thesensiblebond.blogspot.com/p/why-i-left-sspx-milieu.html

[2] http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/para/2089.htm

[3] The Italian journal 30 Days, Sep 2005

[4] The German magazine Die Tagespost, Feb 2007.  It should be noted that the cardinal did also assert that Archbishop Lefebvre himself “performed a schismatic act” with his illicit consecrations.  However, that is not true under canon law.

[5] http://remnantnewspaper.com/web/index.php/articles/item/1569-the-weirdest-schism-in-history-ewtn-and-cmtv-on-the-sspx

[6] Direct source not available, as it is in German.

[7] http://sspx.org/en/news-events/news/sspx-mass-st-peters-basilica-video-4715

[8] https://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/letters/2009/documents/hf_ben-xvi_let_20090310_remissione-scomunica.html

[9] Its proponents proudly described the council as a “revolution” akin to the Masonic French Revolution; see, for example, http://www.sspxasia.com/Documents/Archbishop-Lefebvre/OpenLetterToConfusedCatholics/Chapter-14.htm

[10] “In view of the pastoral nature of the Council, it avoided any extraordinary statements of dogmas endowed with the note of infallibility…” – Pope Paul VI, 1/12/66

[11] That is, if Pope Paul VI himself was correct when he dropped this bombshell: “The tail of the devil is functioning in the disintegration of the Catholic world. The darkness of Satan has entered and spread throughout the Catholic Church even to its summit. Apostasy, the loss of the faith, is spreading throughout the world and into the highest levels within the Church.” – on the 60th anniversary of Fatima, as quoted in Corriere della Sera, Oct 1977

[12] Paul VI proudly declared in his Angelus address of 1/27/74 that “we [the Church], too, have the Cult of Man”.

[13] Of course we might take time to point out just how firmly and triumphantly Unitatis Redintegratio and the entire conciliar Church praise those same Protestants.  In two short years the Vicar of Christ will celebrate the 500th anniversary of that arch-heresy along with Luther’s spiritual progeny.

[14] To the extent that the Protestant has such a thing.

[15] Luke 12:57, 1 Thes 5:21

[16] Charles Journet, The Church of the Word Incarnate (Sheed & Ward, 1955)

[17] Dom Paul Nau, Pope Or Church (Angelus Press, 2006)

[18] As quoted in Davies, Pope John’s Council (Angelus Press, 2008)

[19] "In view of conciliar practice and the pastoral purpose of the present Council, this sacred Synod defines matters of faith or morals as binding on the Church only when the Synod itself openly declares so." – Conciliar General Secretary Felici, 11/16/64

[20] Proponents all things conciliar such as Walter Cardinal Kasper have acknowledged that the documents were made intentionally ambiguous; see, for example, http://unamsanctamcatholicam.blogspot.com/2013/04/kasper-admits-intentional-ambiguity.html

[21] Pastor Aeternus

[22] https://gloria.tv/media/7iu2AHS5tkw

[23] See especially Ralph Wiltgen, The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber (TAN Books, 1991)