Readers will have read the Letter of Bishop Schneider (Rorate), and observed the powerful use he makes of the parallels between our present problems; and the period of the Arian conflict, during which apostasy even reached as high as the man who at that time also occupied the Throne of S Peter. And readers will recall my own advice to study that self-same period, and to do so through the prism of Blessed John Henry Newman, for whose respectability as a testis fidei his recent canonisation vouches. I believe that it is important, especially for clerics and seminarians, to take this period and this subject very seriously, because we need some sound anchoring in reality and Tradition and in approved writers. It is not good enough to be angry or upset and to flail helplessly around without any bearings. That way lies the risk that the Enemy will trap us into unbelief or a heresy such as Sedevacantism. Mgr Schneider has led the way with his extensive quotations from the Fathers, especially S Hilary 'the Athanasius of the West', and from S Thomas Aquinas and B John Henry. I will now take up again the point which I explored last time I entered upon this topic: the thought of Blessed John Henry Newman which he encapsulated in a bold phrase: the "temporary Suspense of the functions of the Ecclesia docens", or, as we might say nowadays, "of the Magisterium".
Newman used this phrase as a historical describer ("as a matter of fact"). With the falling away of so many bishops from orthodoxy, it was, he meant, a matter of historical fact that their function of teaching the Truth was not being discharged. His words were misunderstood by critics ... he was rarely short of those ... as implying that the bishops had lost their capacity to function Magisterially: in other words, his statement was taken theologically. He carefully disavowed this dangerous notion, which, if you think about it, does possess some of the features of the modern Sedevacantist heresy. In fact, Newman carefully distinguished between Suspense of the Magisterium, meaning that the Magisterial officers of the Church were not performing their function, and Suspension of the Magisterium, which in his view would mean that they had lost their function. The latter he would never assert, and neither should we even think of suggesting it.
This is an extremely important distinction for us to make today. In my last piece on this subject, I suggested that Jorge Bergoglio's formal refusal to respond to the Five Dubia constituted a formal entry into a period of Temporary Suspense of the function of his Petrine Magisterium. It is a suspense freely chosen by him which he can end at any moment he chooses by giving the clarifications called for, thus "strengthening his brethren" and "devoutly guarding and faithfully setting forth the Tradition received through the Apostles, the Deposit of the Faith". What joy, unalloyed joy, this happy event would cause; what cries of ad multos annos! Petrus per Franciscum locutus est!
Meanwhile, intelligent thought about the practical and theological implications of the present difficult situation seem to me very much in order. But not only thought.
Let us hope, and pray earnestly to our Lady of Fatima, our Lady of Victories, that we shall never have to adopt and adapt the agonised cry of S Hilary, cited by Bishop Schneider, "Anathema tibi a me dictum praevaricator Liberi!"
God bless and keep our Pope.