From 1910 onwards, during the campaign of S Pius X against Modernism, an 'Anti-Modernist Oath' had to be sworn by all office-holders in the Catholic Church. But, in the aftermath of the Council, that Oath was abolished; its doctrinal precision and its evident intent to discipline doctrinal dissent seemed no longer to suit the Spirit of Age; the Spirit of the student riots of 1968. Freedom and Hair and the Age of Aquarius, when All You Needed was Love, sat uncomfortably with Papa Sarto's laudable determination to maintain Orthodoxy in its most precise form.
It's surprising how things creep back. Ordinands of the Franciscans of the Immaculate are now to be required to ... guess what ... to swear a new oath ... but not at all the same sort of oath as the Anti-Modernist Oath. But the context for this novel imposition appears to be a culture just as ferocious as anything ushered in by Pascendi Dominici gregis: refusal to subscribe will mean instant dismissal from the Order. The required undertaking is described as "accettazione formale ... dei documenti del Concilio Vaticano II, secondo l'autorita riconosciuta loro dal Magistero". The problem that I have with this is that either it imposes an impossibly heavy burden upon those swearing it; or it means nothing. Let me explain what I mean, by a particular and precise example; an example which could, however, be multiplied paene ad infinitum from the Conciliar documents. Woods are made up out of trees.
Sacrosanctum Concilium 101 prescribes that in the Divine Office the Latin language is to be kept (servanda) for clerics. It does go on to give bishops power to allow the vernacular to clergy who have a grave problem with this in individual cases (singulis pro casibus). How many clergy say the Office in Latin? How many of those who say it in the vernacular have had an individual dispensation to do so from their bishop? Clearly, nobody takes that piece of legislation at all seriously; Rome doesn't; Bishops don't; clergy don't. Two delicious paradoxes: (1) if there are hypertraddies among the Franciscans of the Immaculate, they probably are among the few who do take seriously the conciliar obligation to use Latin! And (2), those most vocal in their enthusiasm for "the Council" are likely to be those who sit most lightly on SC 101. I wonder which language Basil Loftus says his Office in.
And SC101 became a dead letter within a decade of the Council ... it's not like provisions of Nicaea which, over the centuries, gradually became obsolete. Was it formally set aside by a pope or a Vatican Dicastery? In that case you would expect uebertrendies - Lofti - to be up in arms about the total iniquity of the pope or the Roman Curia in quashing, within a few years, the explicit mandate of an Ecumenical Council. Is it the unwritten 'Spirit of the Council' which has taken this burden off the shoulders of Bishops and clergy alike? Or do we have here an example of how laws can become obsolete and so cease to bind if they are ignored for long enough and Authority does nothing to insist upon them? How are ordinands, required to swear such an oath, supposed to know which of the Conciliar mandates have been set aside by some dicastery and which have been airbrushed out of existence by the Spirit of the Council and which have achieved the comfortable canonical status of desuetude? Or, if they are not supposed to know, how does the giving of such an undertaking have meaning?
An oath requiring subscription to precise doctrinal statements, such as the Anti-Modernist oath or subscription to dogmatic decrees of a pope or council, may be hard enough to parse accurately in hermeneutic terms. But those problems are nothing compared with giving meaning to the concept of "accepting" the body of documents emerging from Vatican II, a "pastoral Council". The Superior of SSPX said that his brethren accepted "95%" of the Council, and asked whether 'liberals' (one thinks of the associations of dissident priests in Ireland, Austria, and elsewhere, and the recent meeting of IMWAC ... International Movement We Are Church) accept anything like as much. Of course they don't. Does Hans Kueng? And Fr Aidan Nichols has said that one particular Conciliar decree "occasions a genuine difficulty for orthodox Catholics". Take, also, the Conciliar decree on the Church in "the Modern [hodiernus = 'of today'] World". The 'today' of 2014 is many ways very different from the 'today' of 1963. The Holy Father has just pointed this out (EG 84; alluding to the 'naive optimism' of the conciliar period, and adding: "We are more realistic"). So has the Magisterium decided which parts of that document still apply and which do not? Or is everyone free to decide that for themselves?
Where an undertaking or oath is substantially meaningless, the over-scrupulous soul might hesitate to subscribe until someone has resolved all ambiguities. In my judgement, such scrupulosity would be completely excessive and would not in any way represent the obligation placed by God upon a good Catholic. We are expected to get on with living the Catholic life, not to waste our energies in endlessly picking over irrelevant scruples. And the Holy Father Pope Francis has recently and justly urged those in authority in the Church "not to exhaust their energies in inspecting and verifying" (EG 94). If Authority imposes an undertaking which is vague to the point of being meaningless, then one may take that oath. This is not like subscribing to something which is untrue.
At the basis of all this is a very unpleasant implication. Asking these worthy religious men to make these Undertakings is as offensive as it would be to ask a husband to Undertake not to beat his wife. It implies that the exacting of such an Undertaking is necessary. One recalls Pope Francis' words about a "persecution which appears a veritable witch hunt" (EG 100). Apparently the Order has been accused of 'crypto-lefebvreism'. I know no reason to suspect the friars of this. But it would be only human if some of them, given the sort of treatment they are being given, had now started to do an audit of what options they had. Is there some faction in Rome deliberately trying to provoke a schism? And are there people behind the scenes labouring to ensure that an atmosphere is created in which the regularisation of the SSPX is rendered permanently impossible? Let us pray that the Holy Father's reform of the Curia is rapid and radical.
One of the most important initiatives of Vatican II was the encouragement it gave to the work for 'Unity'. In my view, there would be something demonic in an 'Ecumenism' which was preoccupied with bodies deeply sundered from Catholic Truth while at the same time ecclesial divisions closer home were carefully tended, nurtured, extended, and deepened. If not demonic, then certainly hypocritical. It would be like loving all men, especially those a long way away, while fostering domestic hatreds in ones own household. When the Ordinariates were set up, we experienced this mindset: some who had always been so rhetorical in their advocacy of Unity suddenly turned very nasty about an example of Unity actually happening.
I simply do not believe that our beloved Holy Father knows the half of what is being done in his name.