Readers will already have seen notices of this most important book. It is published by a small Canadian Cartholic publishing house, Arouca Press, edited by John Lamont, a learned lay theologian who has suffered both personally and professionally because of his principled adherence to the Faith ... and by Claudio Pierantoni. There is a Foreward by Archbishop Vigano. It is proper for me to admit that I had a hand in some of the documents printed in this volume.
It contains the formal documents concerned, from the Dubia of the four Cardinals and the Filial Coreection onwards. And it also contains important contributions to the debate which these documents stimulated.
The significance of this collection cannot be overestimated. It must be the first time since the Counter-Reformation that bodies of competent theologians, orthodox Catholics, have felt compelled to band together and to oppose, resist, and directly criticise a Roman Pontiff. Both the erudite, and ordinary Catholics, will find this an essential resource for opposing the errors currently being propagated from the very highest places in Rome. Every seminarian ... or, at least, every seminary library, should possess this volume!
But I wish today to suggest that it has an even more important role to play than simply the formation and instruction of a laity and a clergy properly armed to resist the Evil One.
Let me try to explain.
During the period of the Arian conflict, apostasy even reached as high as the man who at that time also occupied the Throne of S Peter. And the parallels with our own times are so significant that we do well to study that self-same period, and to do so through the prism of Saint John Henry Newman.
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 having any bearings. So I will now take up again the thought of Saint John Henry Newman which he encapsulated in his 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. Attempts were made to create trouble for him in Rome; as if he were implying that popes and 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 fallacy. 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.
There is only one pope ... and his name is Francis.
He has not lost any of his authority.
But he has formally declined to use it.
This is an extremely important distinction for us to make today.
The documents in this book are highly valuable tools for our own edification. But there is something which is even more important than that.
This is the fact that PF declined to answer the Dubia and the questions which were put to him. The fact that four Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church put those questions to him gives his refusal to answer them a formal status.
In terms of Saint John Henry's analysis, I suggest that Jorge Bergoglio's formal refusal to respond to the Five Dubia constituted his 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" (Vatican I).
What the practical consequences are for us of living in a period during which the Papal Magisterium is in Suspense is a question which should engage our prayer, thought, and study, individually and collectively.
During an earlier period of such Suspense, the Church heard the agonised cry of S Hilary, cited by Bishop Schneider, "Anathema tibi a me dictum praevaricator Liberi!"
To be continued.