29 March 2016

Another Must Read

After Fr Ker's biography of Blessed John Henry Newman, I want to commend to you the biography of Archbishop Lefebvre by H E Bishop Tissier de Mallerais. The book, and its English translation, are more than a decade old, but it seems to me to have a lot to say to our current ecclesiastical malaise.

As a biography, it is a finely detailed and balanced account of someone whom the author loved and respected, but with regard to whom he was determined to find out the truth. So one can find in this book a very 'conflicted' person. Sometimes he seems to be leaning over backwards to show proper deference to the Vicar of Christ; on other occasions, he seems almost sedevacantist (ET p 549 "the See of Peter and posts of authority in Rome being occupied by anti-Christs ..."; et cf ex gr pp 487, 506, 508). I do not see this inconsistency as unforgivable. The Archbishop was reacting to an ecclesial situation which has little parallel in the more recent history of the Church and accordingly has few guidelines provided for it in Canon Law and the Manualists. And the p 549 I cite in my parenthesis follows closely upon the Assisi Event; one can understand why the vision of the Antichrist, sitting where he ought not, as pagan idols did in the basilica at Assisi, should have been particularly vivid in Lefebvre's mind. But he remained firmly and resolutely opposed to the seductions of sedevacantism at a time when a lesser man might have sought its easy and 'logical' solution.

When there are dysfunctions in the institutions of the Church Militant, the problem is that the old markers, including the Rule-Book, do not, cannot, function in the same way that they are designed to work in 'normal' times. The history of earlier centuries does provide examples of behaviour, not much less uncanonical than Lefebvre's, which was subsequently validated by History. The Arian crisis, marked by widespread episcopal heterodoxy, is one example. The Avignon exile and the Great Schism of the West afford a veritable laboratory of confused crises in which tidy solutions were beyond the grasp of good men and eventually order was restored by untidy expedients. These were not neat solutions; but perhaps an openness to untidiness is sometimes the only sort of solution available to Christians in via.

But is it true that Marcel Lefebvre was faced with a situation of grave disorder? I think we can avoid just loudly shouting at each other about our own individual subjective judgements; instead we can simply consider objective, Magisterial  decisions. Summorum Pontificum confirmed juridically that the Latin Church had lived for some four decades under the dominion of ... yes ... a lie. The Vetus Ordo had not been lawfully prohibited. Much persecution of devout priests and layfolk that took place during those decades is therefore now ... officially ... seen to have been vis sine lege. For this so long to have been so true with regard to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which lies at the heart of the Church's life, argues a profound illness deep within the Latin Church. And that Big Lie was reinforced by multitudes of Little Lies ... that the Council mandated reordered Sanctuaries ... that the Council mandated exclusive use of the vernacular ...

So, I suggest, we can read Bishop Tissier's book as a narrative of how a good, but very often puzzled, man coped with the incomprehensible. And we can do this to our own benefit. Many Catholics find our present situation incomprehensible. As in the situations which Lefebvre faced, some Catholics may naturally feel inclined to act as though the rule-book does still apply (and so to treat the Church's current office-holders with the same obsequium as if we were still in the pontificate of S Pius X); on the other hand, others may discern the dysfunctions and ask their consciences what God expects of them by way of resistance, as many did during the Arian crisis and the Great Western Schism.

But I must express my own considered judgement by saying that the Church Militant, and her institutions, have not collapsed to the degree that many fear. Proper respect for the Roman Pontiff, despite all; and to the Bishops of the Catholic Church; are still our obligation. It is conceivable that graver deterioration may occur (again, vide the Arian crisis and the Great Western Schism): it has happened before without the Church's ultimate indefectibility being affected, so, in theory, it could happen again; but it has not happened yet.

But what about if it does? Frankly, I do not think it is is our Christian duty endlessly to be anxious about worrying contingencies. There are millions of these, and what eventually does happen will probably not be any of them. That's what happens in History. But ... OK ... I have just agreed that such things, theoretically, can happen ... they can happen because they have happened ... so: what did previous generations of Catholics do?

Both Councils and popes have behaved very foolishly in the past. What followed? Christian people kept their nerve and got on with everyday faithful obedience and, eventually, the disordered Council or the nutty pope or the barmy bishops were quite simply forgotten.

Time itself possesses a quasi-Magisterial status. The decrees for regulating the Jews of the Fifth Ecumenical Lateran Council are now simply matters for embarrassment. What was iffy about that Council, or about the Pope who presided over it, has disappeared or gradually merged into what one might call the Church's general background noise (dogmatic decrees and anathemas of dogmatic councils are, of course, a different matter). What was unhelpful in Conciliar texts or their consequences or their "spirit" ... and when, after the Ecumenical Council of Vienne, the Templars were being led out to be burned, they probably thought that was unhelpful ... Time has purged away; or will purge.

Take the long view. Never panic. Stick to the Sacraments. Read your Bible. Stay in Communion with the Bishop of Rome and with your own local bishop, however silly either or both of them seem to you to be.

6 comments:

Sadie Vacantist said...

The present malaise can be traced back to WWII and the establishment of the American and Soviet empires – the latter of course has collapsed but not the former. Until the weaponised cult of World War II is disarmed then the Church will continue to decline. Whether the atheist Donald Trump can bring about a change remains uncertain but at least he is talking about the possibility. Interesting to note that his latest concubine is presumably an “ethnic Catholic”.

Simon Reilly said...

What is often overlooked is that bad councils and bad popes usually don't directly bring about the a decline in the life of the Church except in a purely negative way. What usually happens is that the chain of command breaks down and the Church becomes like a ship with no one at the helm. However, the driving force that threatens to drive that ship aground is the wind of mediocrity, the preference of one's own comfort to that of sacrifice. I think we can easily discern its work in the dramatic decline in the Catholic Church in the first world: in slavish, none discerning obedience that has implemented the destruction of Catholic piety and devotion without question; the surrendering of hard won Church privileges to secularist states etc. Therefore it is this spirit that we should consider as enemy number one because unlike bad popes and councils the damage it can do can be permanent and fatal.

Jeremy said...

In the past, especially the Middle Ages, the faithful had little idea of what was happening and consequently probably worried little about it. Modern communications show us in seconds what foolish remark has just been made by those who should know better; which Cardinal said what to whom; which document could throw us into turmoil, or which doctrine is now turned on its head. There is no doubt that this piles pressure on any of us who love the Church and interfere with the quiet life we might have led centuries ago, crises at the top of the shop notwithstanding. From every point of view it is a Cross we need to carry unless we remain in ignorance, which seems impossible today.

mark wauck said...

I wish I could agree with the recommendations, but I really can't. I'm sure there are lessons that could be learned by comparing the current situation to the Arian heresy, but there are also lessons to be learned from more recent events--such as the Protestant Revolt. So ...

"eventually, the disordered Council or the nutty pope or the barmy bishops were quite simply forgotten."

No doubt, for the most part, but the mess they created often remained and, as we have seen, grew worse over time.

"Take the long view. Never panic. Stick to the Sacraments. Read your Bible. Stay in Communion with the Bishop of Rome and with your own local bishop, however silly either or both of them seem to you to be."

It's not that I disagree with much of that--although I would highly recommend historical and philosophical study as well--but, again, look at the Protestant situation and its aftermath. In our times, with widespread literacy, higher levels of general knowledge--historical, doctrinal, liturgical (Tx to Fr Hunwicke for disseminating so much info)--instantaneous communication, I think the laity is called on to do more. To be demanding of a Church and its hierarchs who leave it like "a ship without a rudder" (Burke).

For example, "stay in Communion with the Bishop of Rome"--or should that be, with the Church of Rome? Is there a difference, when the Bishop of said city appears to renounce, denigrate, whatever so many of those marks that indicate Communion with that Church? Or when our local bishop--let's call him Cardinal Marx just to put a face on him, it could as easily be one who blesses "gay" unions, etc.--by any objective standards appears to no longer be in Communion with the Church of Rome? Maintain Communion with him? What does that mean? For more than a few people the choices are becoming more and more difficult. I'm quite sure Fr Hunwicke is aware of these practical and pressing dilemmas of conscience and faith, based on his writings re historical figures such as Hugh Curwen.

These are hard questions: historical, doctrinal, canonical.

Thomas said...

I agree that we should not underestimate the harm that is done and the souls that are damaged or lost in the meantime. I also agree that we may be called to argue and protest against what is manifestly wrong, according to our lights and our place, no matter what source it emanates from. But that is not the same thing as abandoning ship altogether. That's what I hear Fr. Hunwicke saying.

An image that came to mind yesterday is that before an arrow is released to fly firmly to its target, the bow is stretched almost to breaking point into the opposite direction. The story of God's People often seems to follow this pattern.

Christ is Risen. The victory is assured. Happy Easter!

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Take the long view. Never panic. Stick to the Sacraments. Read your Bible. Stay in Communion with the Bishop of Rome and with your own local bishop, however silly either or both of them seem to you to be.

Amen, Father, well written.

Maintaining the Bonds of Unity in Worship, Doctrine, and Authority has always been the sine qua non of authentic Catholicism and there is not one trad who can identify one saint or one council teaching otherwise.