Skip to comments.Essays for Lent/Easter: Traditionalists [Catholic Caucus]
Posted on 04/17/2012 8:05:46 PM PDT by Salvation
by Sebastian R. Fama
There are a number of Traditionalist groups who reject the Second Vatican Council and the changes that followed. They consider those who have accepted the changes to be what they call "The Conciliar Church." They somehow imagine that members of this "Conciliar Church" are no longer Catholic and that they themselves are the loyal remnant.
Traditionalists are well aware that ecumenical councils have always spoken with authority. They try to get around this by claiming that Vatican II was a pastoral and not a doctrinal council. A pastoral council, they contend, can teach error and thus does not require assent. But no such distinction exists. An ecumenical council is an ecumenical council. When Pope John XXIII called the council pastoral he was referring to its approach. He wasnt creating a new non binding class of council. What sense would that even make? Why summon 2600 bishops to Rome if their work would ultimately be meaningless?
Traditionalists prefer the style employed by the Council of Trent where anathemas were issued against heresies. They see Vatican IIs kind words to other religions as being contradictory to the work done at Trent. But that is simply not so. Trent was convened to address attacks on the faith by former Catholics (heretics). Thus anathemas would be a natural part of their work. Vatican II was, among other things, concerned with bringing the message of Christ to the world, thus its pastoral approach. If you want to communicate the Gospel effectively you begin by drawing attention to what is good in others as the apostle Paul did in Acts 17:22-23. You dont foster effective communication with condemnations.
The "pastoral argument" becomes even more untenable when you consider two of the documents produced by the council. For instance: "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church" and "Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation." Use of the word Dogmatic would seem to indicate that these documents were something more than friendly suggestions.
In "Humani Generis" Pope Pius XII leaves no doubt as to the authority of the proclamations of a general (ecumenical) council. He wrote: "If the General Council in its official documents purposely passes judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that the matter, according to the mind of the council, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion..."
Even if for some reason the council were not ecumenical its teachings would still require assent as they were promulgated by Pope Paul VI. Any teaching promulgated by a pope is authoritative by virtue of the Churchs Ordinary Magisterium (Vatican I, session 3, chapter 3).
Traditionalists try to back up their arguments by quoting council documents out of context. For instance, I received the following concerning "Lumen Gentium ":
But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place among these there are the Moslems, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind (No. 16).
Ask any Moslem if he adores Jesus as God. He does not and therefore he denies the one true God. Therefore Vatican II is in error when it equates Islam with Catholicism. Jesus established one Church and it has no equal.
There is no claim here of spiritual equality. This passage is merely affirming the traditional Church teaching that those outside the Church can get to heaven. The subject is treated in greater detail a few sentences later: "Those who through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience those too may achieve eternal salvation."
The document affirms other traditional views of the Church:
1. All men are called to the union of the Catholic Church (1:3).
2. The Church has the mission to proclaim the kingdom of Christ to all peoples (1:5).
3. Christ is the one mediator (1:8).
4. The Church is necessary for salvation (2:14).
5. Whoever knows this and leaves the Church cannot be saved (2:14).
Traditionalists are scandalized by the liturgical abuses that plague many Catholic churches today. They are appalled by Catholic universities that routinely alter Church doctrines to make them more acceptable to the modern world (Modernism). On these points their outrage is justified. Indeed, every Catholic should be outraged by such behavior. However, dissent within the Church never justifies schism. As someone once said, "You dont leave Peter because of Judas." If anything you stay and work for change.
For those who prefer the Latin Mass there are legitimate options. You can check with your diocese to see if there are any offered in your area. Or you can contact groups like The Fraternity of St. Peter (www.fssp.com) or The Institute of Christ the King (www.institute-christ-king.org). Schismatic groups such as the Society of St. Pius X should be avoided at all costs as support for such groups results in automatic excommunication.
Some Traditionalists are more creative than others. Within the movement there is a group known as the Sedevacanists. This group realizes that Catholics are supposed to be obedient to the pope. And yet they have been at odds with every pope since the council. Their solution to this dilemma they claim there hasnt been a pope since 1958. How do they know there hasnt been a pope since 1958? Because every one who has occupied the office since that time has disagreed with them. Therefore they must be heretics and thus not real popes.
There are a couple of things wrong with this argument. First of all, not agreeing with someones private interpretation of Church documents does not constitute heresy. Secondly, even if they were guilty of heresy they would still have been popes. Pope Pius XII, the last real pope according to Sedevacanists, tells us as much in his apostolic constitution "Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis." He wrote: "None of the cardinals may in any way, or by pretext or reason of any excommunication, suspension, or interdict whatsoever, or of any other ecclesiastical impediment, be excluded from the active and passive election of the supreme pontiff. We hereby suspend such censures solely for the purpose of the said election; at other times they are to remain in vigor" (no. 34).
Passive election refers to the cardinal himself being elected pope. This may seem odd at first glance. But it is actually necessary. Heresy can be a purely internal disposition without any outward manifestation. If a pope were a heretic and kept it to himself no one would know. If being a heretic would negate a papal election and you could never know for sure if a pope were a heretic, it follows that you could never know if we had a pope. If this were the case the Church would be in a constant state of chaos. We see this same principal applied to the Eucharist. The validity of the Eucharist does not depend on the worthiness of the priest. If it did you would never know if you were receiving a validly consecrated host.
Its true that a heretical pope should step down as he would have no right to be pope. But if he didnt step down he would still be pope. And the Church would be protected from his heresy by papal infallibility. If any pope planned on formally teaching heresy, weather on purpose or unknowingly, the Holy Spirit would not allow it. We have Christs word on that (Matthew 16:18).
There isnt enough room in a short essay to adequately address all of the complaints Traditionalists have against the Church. However, some are worthy of note. They believe that only Catholics can be saved. This idea was condemned by Pope Pius IX in his encyclical, "Quanto Conficiamur Moerore," No. 7. They believe that Christ died only for the elect. This idea was condemned by the Council of Trent, session 6, chapter 2 as well as 2 Corinthians 5:15. Some Traditionalists, such as the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, even appoint their own bishops. This was condemned by Pope Pius XII in "Ad Apostolorum Principis" and it results in an automatic excommunication for all involved.
So when Traditionalists say they reject Vatican II it is only the tip of the iceberg. In practice they also reject Trent, Vatican I, Pope Pius IX, and Pope Pius XII. Im sure with a little more research this list would only grow.
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Calling the experts; I have some questions about this article.
There’s no question that Vatican II was a Council of the Church, called by and presided over by the Pope and filled with bishops.
Therefore, it would be preserved from serious error or heresy by the Holy Ghost, as Jesus promised His Church.
But this is not to say that it was necessarily a smart move, or a needed council, or that everything that was done was an improvement in the Church. If you examine the history of Church Councils, some were of major importance, some are pretty much forgotten by all but historians, and some may even have moved things in the wrong direction, to be corrected later. But no heresies.
I think Vatican II certainly produced some very questionable results, even if many of those results were the product of dissidents and liberal heretics who twisted what the Council actually said to their own purposes. There is a big difference between Vatican II and the so-called “spirit of Vatican II” which those dissidents preached. But perhaps it could be argued that the Council was a mistake if it gave them that opportunity. Not heretical, and certainly not justifying splitting off from the Church, or individuals leaving the Church. But not producing the kind of good results that were expected when the Council was convened.
I have read all the documents of Vatican II, and I have not found any signs of heresy in them. Nor have those who criticize the Council ever successfully pointed out any specific examples that are convincingly heretical.
Presumably all those trouble-making bishops and priests and nuns and lay staff who shook up the Church after Vatican II would have found some other excuse to do much the same, in any case. They were already in the Church when the Council was convened. But the Church has gone through even worse crises in the past, most obviously the Manichean heresy which infected the majority of bishops, but has recovered from them by God’s grace. The Church will recover again.
Thanks for your insights. You addressed what troubled me in the article about heresies, and I thank you.
This is inaccurate. Automatic excommunication has a vastly higher standard than hearing a Mass said by a priest said to be schismatic. Automatic excommunication is for defiance of well-known Church teaching on a serious matter such as abortion. Abortionists, those who deliberately and knowingly participate in abortion, and abortion-supporting politicians excommunicate themselves by their actions.
This isn't to say it's a good idea to go to Mass at Pius XII chapels. What I have read is that such a Mass is canonically described as "valid" (it truly confects a sacrament and fulfills your obligation) but not "licit" (those priests are not supposed to be confecting the sacrament under those circumstances). But in a sense, it's not your problem if you're just attending, because the standard of accountability for laymen is lower. The Society being declared schismatic doesn't make you schismatic yourself, because to be a heretic or schismatic, you have to be knowingly, deliberately, and publicly defying the Church's line of succession from Christ and declaring your allegiance to a different hierarchy. Just the requirement of "knowingly" cuts out most members of the laityincluding most of Luther's followers!
As some have commented, the problem with SSPX isn't so much the priestsit's the congregation! The priests at least publicly recognize and pray for the Pope. But anecdotally, in the U.S., the parishioners typically include a big proportion of those who talk as if they are sedevacantistsfolks who say the Pope isn't the real Pope. I don't think it's a great atmosphere for one's spiritual confidence and development.
To draw an important distinction, my understanding is that Masses said by sedevacantist priests are not valid, and do not fulfill one's obligation. But to hear even such a Mass would not cause automatic excommunication for the laymen attending.
Rome has stated that one may fulfill their Sunday obligation at an SSPX chapel in good conscience. If that is the case doing so cannot also incur automatic excommunication.
Headlines today indicate the Vatican and SSPX are on the cusp of rectifying the latter’s irregular juridical status so this entire 2006 article’ premise vis the SSPX is a moot point.
Lefebvre's story is much simpler: DISOBEDIENCE. He ought to be toast.
But, in the end, he will die and his followers will fade away and Lefebvre's name and life will be a paragraph, then a sentence in the Church history books. Bump in the road, nothing more.
I think you are arguing with the author and not me. As I said, I know nothing about this issue.
**Headlines today indicate the Vatican and SSPX are on the cusp of rectifying the latters irregular juridical status**
I thought it most interesting that this segment came up as this is all happening at the Vatican. I have a mind to link the three or four threads here.
Oh yes, that was totally understood.
When he consecrated four bishops instead of one in 1988, as Rome had permitted, he stepped into disobedience. There is simply no way to excuse or explain away that schismatic act. On the other hand, the Vatican has clearly stated for several years now that the SSPX is not in a state of schism but in an irregular juridical status.
History will eventually show his primary arguments were correct and will be very sympathetic to his cause. The Traditional Latin Mass was never abrogated, as Pope Benedict XVI has subsequently admitted, and most of the novelties and liturgical innovations since VII are not defensible in, or even imagined by, the actual documents of VII.
Pope Benedict XVI is actually giving credibility to their assertions by insisting the only proper interpretation of VII is in light of the 1960 years of Catholic Tradition which proceeded it. And I say these things as a Catholic loyal to the Magisterium who attends the Traditional Latin Mass under the provisions of Pope Benedict XVI's Summorum Pontifuicum and a frequent critic of the excesses of certain elements within the SSPX.
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The core sin of Adam and Eve's and Lefebvre's disobedience is the same core of Satan's disobedience: ARROGANCE-PRIDE.
But, in the end, he will die and his followers will fade away and Lefebvre’s name and life will be a paragraph, then a sentence in the Church history books...
...oops...hate to tell you this, but Lefebvre died in 1991, and his ‘followers’ continue to enjoy Pope Benedict’s Motu inspired worship at an increasing rate...your astounding ignorance regarding Lefebvre kind of invalidates anything you have to say about him, don’t ya think...
I'm not sure if I would recognize or even discern any sign of heresy. I admire your perseverance.
It IS amazing to me that in spite of all the errant popes that served over the ages, no heresy has ever reared its ugly head long enough to become part of the Church teaching. If that's not proof of the guidance of the Holy Spirit I don't know what is.
Exactly. There have been some pretty bad Popes, but they have been preserved from error.
There were a couple of times when it looked like things might slip, but they didn’t. A bishop who was earlier on the Manichean side, along with the Byzantine Emperor, was elected Pope. But after the election, he dropped his Manichean position.
And I forget the details, but there was another Pope in the middle ages who was about to agree with some deviant Franciscan Friars on the nature of free will, but a group of philosophers from the University of Paris rushed to Rome and persuaded him not to go ahead with it. Evidently that was the closest any Pope came to heresy.
Selfishness and misbehavior, yes, as in the case of the Borgia Pope, Alexander VI—but God prevented even the worst of those Popes from promulgating heresy.
It really is miraculous.
Disobedience began it all. That is how I started off my piece...
...actually, you started off your piece with a gross misstatement of fact, and then proceeded to slime one of the most loyal prelates to the Deposit of Faith ever known, without whom almost the entire Tradition of our Church would exist only in fading memories...what with bishops who hate tradition, caring only for the collection plate, priests not willing to learn a little bit of Latin, and laity looking for the easiest and least challenging liturgy, happily accepting a vapid shell of its former beauty...Lefebvre’s “disobdience” seems more an act of courage, given the hostility to tradition existing in the Church in those days...