Sunday, 5 February 2012

Confessions of a theological radical

As I seem to have gained quite a few new readers of late, some of whom don't seem to have a good sense of where I'm coming from, I thought it might be helpful to explain a little of my perspective on the Church.

Reader perspectives

Some persist in seeing me as 'conservative' who will necessarily support conservative bishops, and are therefore surprised at my occasional criticisms of them.  Well no, I'm not a conservative in any sense of the word, so don't be surprised!

Others seem to think that I should be concerned about the 'reputation' of this blog, and shouldn't attack the positions of people such as Fr Waters of Melbourne because they are "eminent and respected" in the Australian Church.  I have to say that I'm really not quite sure just why they think I should be concerned about my 'reputation'!  I earn no money from this blog; I am not employed in any capacity by the Church; and I am not seeking favours of any kind from the hierarchy.  And even if any of those considerations did apply, I'm not one to compromise on truth where I think it needs to be spoken!

So let me explain where I am coming from.

Benedictine spirituality

The first thing readers should understand is that I do try, though I more often fail than not, to be a follower of St Benedict's spirituality.

St Benedict firmly opposes making any 'distinction of persons' based on who a person is, as opposed to what they do and say.  He advises his abbots as follows, for example:

"Let him not make any distinction of persons in the monastery. Let him not love one more than another, unless he find him better in good works and obedience. Let not a free born monk be put before one that was a slave, unless there be some other reasonable ground for it...because, whether slaves or freemen, we are all one in Christ, and have to serve alike in the army of the same Lord. For there is no respect of persons with God.  In this regard only are we dis­tinguished in his sight, if we be found better than others in good works and humility. Therefore let the abbot show an equal love to all, and let the same discipline be imposed on all in accordance with their deserts." (RB2, trans McCann)

And though St Benedict urges obedience and active support of decisions of the superior once made ('murmuring' is one of the more heinous crimes within the monastery as far as he is concerned), St Benedict also urges us all to listen carefully to the voice of God, and to listen for it not just in the expected places, but wherever it might come from.

Thirdly, St Benedict's is above all a call to live out the Gospel in our own small way, even if doing so has unpleasant consequences in the short term. 

Liberals, conservatives and traditionalists

The second point to note is that I am not a conservative as such, but rather more in the 'traditionalist' camp (though I am critical of many traditionalists and apsects of the traditionalist movement too for a variety of reasons!).

One of the ongoing debates within the Church is over the use of labels such as 'conservative', 'traditionalist', 'liberal' and some more clearly pejorative variants (you know the ones I mean, 'Taliban Catholic', 'Temple police', etc etc).

A commenter recently took me to task for using terms like conservative, suggesting I think, that really we should just talk about being catholic.  It is a position I've taken myself in the past, and is often taken by those I'd describe as conservatives, but in the end I've concluded it just can't be sustained.

The reality, it seems to me, is that there are different schools of spirituality and approaches to catholic living in the Church at the moment that it is convenient to be able to label, for exactly the same reasons that we talk about schools of spirituality based on particular saints or religious orders.  They are useful because they help us understand our differing mindsets and approaches, hopefully helping us to build bridges.

Conservatives vs traditionalists

The important distinction to understand here is that between 'conservatives' or what might be termed mainstream 'JPII generation' Catholics compared to (non-schismatic) 'traditionalists'.  The best article on this subject is probably still that by Fr Chad Ripperger FSSP.  His 2001 article in Christian Order, called 'Operative Points of View' argues that the difference derives from attitudes to tradition, and I basically agree.

Too many positions taught by the Church today, Fr Ripperger argued, have no obvious connection with what came before, and reflect an undue focus on the current magisterium as opposed to the continuing tradition: it is all about Vatican II and after, not all of the Councils of the Church and all magisterial teaching, in other words.

His summation of the difference between the two groups is as follows:

"Neo-conservatives have fallen into this way of thinking i.e. the only standard by which they judge orthodoxy is whether or not one follows the current magisterium. Traditionalists, as a general rule, tend to be orthodox in the sense that they are obedient to the current magisterium, even though they disagree about matters of discipline and have some reservations about some aspects of current magisterial teachings which seem to contradict the previous magisterium (e.g. the role of the ecumenical movement). Traditionalists tend to take not just the current magisterium as their norm but Scripture small intrinsic tradition, extrinsic tradition and the current magisterium as the principles of judgment of correct Catholic thinking."

Pope Benedict XVI has attempted to address this critique conceptually through his promotion of the 'hermeneutic of continuity', and practically by putting more emphasis on the importance of the Catholic patrimony.  But it would have to be said that in many areas of contemporary practice many traditionalists would argue that the existence of continuity remains an assertion rather than a demonstrated reality!

So let me tease out a little more the differences between the three main camps from my perspective.

Three broad camps: (1) Liberals

Liberals are those who believe in the 'spirit of Vatican II', and believe it had radical and revolutionary objectives that have not yet been fully realised.  The collapse in the Church in recent decades, they argue, is because conservative forces have thwarted the realisation of that heroic vision, and continue to embark on a desperate 'Restorationist' program.

At one extreme within this grouping, the term 'liberal' is just a polite way of saying heretic.  Consider, for example, the recent discussion on Communion on the tongue over at aCatholica Forum.  It started from 'well I don't really believe in the Real Presence' and went on to the outright blasphemous.

Then there is a middle grouping, perhaps represented by the majority of Cath News commenters, who are perhaps best characterised as those mostly willfully (and thus culpably) ignorant of the faith.  Again take a look at the discussion over there on Communion on the tongue.  They don't necessarily outright reject defined teachings of the Church (at least the ones they know about), but won't accept the Catechism as a useful starting point to inform themselves.  They question whether they really are required to actually believe a number of key teachings, and have some very interestingly innovative views on a number of subjects which traddies would see as fitting the description of the amorphous modernist heresy fair and square.

I do accept that there are some liberals, who, while subscribing to the view that we need more radical reform in line with the spirit of Vatican II, don't actually subscribe to outright error.  But it is a pretty hard juggling act to manage.

Three broad camps: (2) Conservatives

The conservative camp, I would suggest, are those who basically see the documents of Vatican II as the defining point for the contemporary Church.  They accord its documents a high degree of weight (some even arguing it all to be pretty much all infallible teaching), and typically think that the Church before Vatican II was in a desperately bad, distorted state.

The current Pope's ideas notwithstanding, for conservatives, the 'hermeneutic of continuity' essentially begins with Vatican II and refers to the interpretation those documents have been given in the implementation process and in subsequent magisterial teaching only.

In the main they are not literalists however.  When it comes to the liturgy for example, the fact that the documents of Vatican II clearly do not envisage the widespread use of the vernacular does not strike them as particularly problematic, since the subsequent train of decisions accepts, even promotes this state of affairs. 

Again, within this grouping there are a number of more or less clearly defined sub-groupings, including 'neo-conservatives', the 'reform of the reform' crowd, and others.  The neo-conservatives (who include a number of prominent Australian bishops), who might best be described as politically conservative and 'ultramontanist' in orientation, are the most prominent.

On the surface it might seem that conservatives are all perfectly orthodox.  But a traditionalist would argue that the detachment of much modern theology from the longer tradition has made conservatives easily susceptible to modernist and other radical infections of error, as well as poor prudential judgments.  And that's why traditionalists tend to be critical of conservatives.

Three broad camps: (3) Traditionalists

Many traditionalists define themselves in terms of attachment to the Extraordinary Form, but I actually don't think that's an accurate indicator - many who attend the EF would be more accurately labelled de facto conservatives, particularly in the wake of papal decisions such as Summorum Pontificum.

My working definition of traditionalists (and here I am only talking about those who are clearly within the Church, and not the position of the SSPX who seem now to have rejected any prospect of reconciliation with Rome) is rather those who view Vatican II as just one Council amongst many, and one that needs to be put in a proper context.

In general I would argue that traditionalists are those who blame the current collapse of the Church on some particularly ill-judged pastoral decisions taken at and in the wake of the Council (above all the implementation of the Novus Ordo vernacular mass), and question some of the doctrinal formulations in the documents to a greater or lesser degree.

At one extreme are those who think nothing good at all came out of Vatican II or can ever be assimilated from it into the (real) Church.  Some members of this group do lurk within the Church, but most are members of outright or quasi-schismatic groups such as the SSPX.  This sub-grouping includes the, in my view, nutty fringe that gives traditionalists a bad name. 

Far more traditionalists, though, hold to views of the kind articulated by the (thankfully now well on the road to recovery from cancer) Hilary White over at Orwell's Picnic.  They may hold at least some positions that are shall we say difficult to reconcile with at least some contemporary ordinary magisterial teaching, but don't outright reject the validity (as opposed to the desirability) of current practices. 

And then there is the sub-grouping that I consider myself as belonging to, that can see, amongst the damage, some positives coming out of the Council that will be integrated into the Church in the longer run and remain hopeful that some of the more difficult-to-reconcile-with-the-tradition teachings actually might be able to be.  Indeed, let me make it clear that you won't find anything on this blog that contradicts the Catechism of the Catholic Church; quite the contrary you will find repeated calls to faithfulness to it.  The real issue, in my view, is getting past this post-Nicaea-esq period of flourishing destructive heresy...

 What does it matter in practice?

It is the liberals in Australia and elsewhere who are most obviously driving the threat of schism in the Church. 

In Australia the fight has largely centred on a number of high profile bishops who in recent decades have refused to follow church teaching and law, culminating most famously in recent times in the dismissal of Bishop Morris.  But of course, he did not come out of a vacuum, as the famous Statement of Conclusions attests, nor is he alone amongst our bishops in his views and acts.

Similarly, a reader has alerted me to the inclusion of Australia in the list of countries with priests supporting the 'Appeal to Disobedience' movement that started in Austria.  Unsurprising I guess given some of the things printed in The Swag and elsewhere over the last year or two, not to mention things like the South Brisbane imbroglio!

All the same, from the traditionalist view which I subscribe to, Church unity and a return to orthodoxy will not be achieved until there has been a major correction of views within the current mainstream of the Church.  

That is, traditionalists believe that the weaknesses of the Church today cannot just be attributed to the influence of the liberals.

Indeed, the Pope's recent address to the Plenary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith says pretty much just that in my view, as the Catholic News Agency Reports:

“In vast areas of the earth the faith risks being extinguished, like a flame without fuel,” the Pope told assembled members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who met in a plenary session on Friday.

“We are facing a profound crisis of faith, a loss of a religious sense which represents one of the greatest challenges for the Church today.”

Pope Benedict hopes the Year of Faith, which will run from Oct. 11, 2012 to Nov. 24, 2013, will contribute “to restoring God's presence in this world, and to giving man access to the faith, enabling him to entrust himself to the God who, in Jesus Christ, loved us to the end.”

“The renewal of faith,” the Pope announced, “must, then, be a priority for the entire Church in our time.”

The Pope went on to talk about the effects of false ecumenism, warning of:

"...the risks of indifference and of false irenicism” – which give the appearance of unity, without regard for truth.

In today's world, the Pope observed, there is an “increasingly widespread” perception “that truth is not accessible to man, and that, therefore, we must limit ourselves to finding rules to improve this world.”

“In this scenario,” he noted, “faith comes to be replaced by a shallow-rooted moralism,” which can cause the dialogue between Christian groups to become superficial.

The challenge

Part of the problem, in my view, is simply poor catechesis or indeed its outright absence.  Even amongst the best bishops and priests, many continue to fail to teach on some subjects, while the worst teach in ways that actively mislead.  Catholic schools continue to fail in their duty to assist parents in forming their children in the actual faith.

Part of the problem is that it is genuinely hard for catholics to work out what is and isn't the faith since purveyors of outright error such as Fr Richard McBrien, Sr Joan Chittester, Paul Collins and others have not had their works outright condemned, nor have they had their excommunication declared by the appropriate authorities.  False ecumenism has resulted in many outright protestant ideas and dangerous spiritual practices being regularly presented as if they were Catholicism, and even actively promoted by dioceses and 'catholic' institutions. 

And part of the problem, in my view, is the subtle subversion of the faith and lack of proper pastoral support structures that is the result of poorly carried out liturgy, the absence of the traditional devotions, and the destruction of the spiritual infrastructure (including monasteries, lay guilds and much more) that has occurred in recent decades.  Even most traditionalists have unconsciously or consciously accepted as normal a 'catholic' culture that is actually bereft of many of its traditional elements.

We need genuine renewal...

In short, we need a genuine renewal, a genuine rediscovery of the Tradition presented in ways suited to our times.  We need to build a new theological and pastoral structure suited to the twenty-first century. 

We shouldn't seek to do the impossible, and return to some imagined past. 

We shouldn't accept the continuation of our impoverished present.

And we certainly shouldn't be seeking to reignite the failed, destructive revolution of the 1960s and 70s!

So I for one, will continue to advocate for the agenda for renewal for all in the Church proposed by the current Pope, one that I hope will be given a good kickstart by the upcoming Year of Faith.

Of course I hope that this blog contributes to the cause of evangelization both within the Church and outside it. 

But I don't judge its success on superficial indicators of 'influence', and I won't be changing its pitch in the interests of values such as perceived 'niceness', tolerance, or appeal to some particular group.

**Comments and debate on the propositions I've put here are welcome.  But please, remember to give yourself an identifying moniker, to and keep your comments polite and on the arguments themselves, avoiding ad hominems.  


Anonymous said...

Had to titter at aCatholica's latest idea of an insulting epithet for you: 'Magesterium [sic] Catholic'!

Followed further down that particular thread by a rant on 'Bishop Kate' daring to dissent from the Magisterium of Coyne on Toowoomba. Now you'd think they'd be all in favour of wimmin bishops wouldn't you?!


Father K said...

In fact, the Pope did not say 'hermeneutic of continuity' these three words are repeated ad nauseam everywhere you look. He actually spoke about 'the hermeneutic of reform in continuity.' Once you grasp that, with a good, solid understanding of the magisterium, especially as it is explained in the Code of Canon Law, all other labels become irrelevant, stagnant and in practice, work against what the Holy Father is trying to achieve. If you don't believe that, then just look at what Bishop Fellay said in the USA on February 2nd. By using these worn out political phrases all is achieved is that the Church gets bogged down in more and more quicksand and to equate these political terms with various forms of genuine spirituality is not only ludicrous but irresponsible and downright misleading.

Anonymous said...

The teaching of the Popes and the magisterium throughout the ages never contradicts itself. So one cannot fall into error or heresy by following the "current magisterium" (which is the magisterium of the One Catholic Church).

It can be dangerous, I believe, to try to "create a contradiction" between what the Church has taught in the past and what it teaches now. If there were such a contradiction that would imply that Catholicism is false.
It is also dangerous (possibly heretical) to reject the teachings of any Ecumenical Council


Kate said...

Actually Father, I believe the Pope has actually used the term 'hermeneutic of continuity' though I agree that it is a short form for his full presentation. Regardless, he frequently talks about the contrast with the clear opposite, viz the hermeneutic of rupture and discontinuity, so I really don't think there is any great insight to be gained from arguing about his terminology.

I for one am certainly not arguing against the need for renewal and change, just about the nature of the change required and the extent to which we can get guidance for that process from a pastoral council now fifty years out of date.

And interestingly, Rorate Caeli are claiming that Bishop Fellay is being misinterpreted and reconciliation is indeed nigh...

Anonymous said...


One can no more be quasi-schismatic than quasi pregnant.

+ Wolsey

HolyCatholicApostoli said...

I would recommend reading the book, Trojan Horse in the City of God the Catholic Crisis Explained (1967) by Dietrich von Hildebrand.

This is an excellent book.

Kate said...

JM - Just as we don't have to subscribe to the arguments made in an encyclical or other papal document to reach an infallible statement of doctrine, just accept the doctrine, we don't have to agree with every word written in Vatican II documents. In the case of earlier Councils just what we had to believe was clearly set out, in statements with anathemas attached to them. In the case of Vatican II, just what is and isn't formal definitions that we have to accept is unclear. Moreover in the case of purely pastoral decisions, we are free to disagree with them (though not to disobey them).

As the 'Ordinary' magisterium question, there are basically three issues. First many conservatives appear to appear to believe that every word uttered by a Pope (at least if that Pope were JPII!) constitutes the ordinary magisterium. It doesn't.

Secondly, relying purely on what current popes talk about and viewing everything else as irrelevant potentially leaves huge holes in our faith and practice. Many devotions were rejected after VII for example, by some as representing an undesirable 'privatisation' of the faith. Some have been rescued by popes championing them, but we shouldn't judge whether something is a valuable part of the patrimony purely by whether a pope has recently spoken about it, or been seen doing it!

The third more serious issue is where what was previously taught as ordinary magisterium appears to contradict what was earlier taught.

Infallible or de fide propositions cna never contradict themselves, but there can and have been major changes in practice and teaching in less developed areas (usury springs to mind).

Fr Ripperger argues that it is not absolutely obvious that later popes prevail over earlier ones in the case of two encyclicals on the same subject for example: certainly where ordinary maagisterium, develops into more certain teaching that is the case, but practice in the past has been to explain any development in thinking and explicitly say what is and isn't still current, not just leave it to the masses to make it up. I'm not sure I entirely agree with him on this point: more often what is contradictory are interpretations of what assorted popes have said. All the same, encyclicals and Council documents that do not contextualise their arguments in terms of the tradition have, it seems to me, led to endless confusion about what is and isn't the teaching of the Church in areas such as the interpretation of Scripture for example.

Kate said...

HCA - Hildebrand is basically a classic conservative, arguing for example that religious life before VII had become bogged down in legalism. Well personally, I'd dispute that, but even if it were true, I'd rather have that than no religious life left at all, which is basically where Australia is heading!

The equivalent traddie manifesto is Iota Unum by Romano Amerio.

PM said...

There is a curious paradox at play here. The council fathers at Vatican II, as far as I can see, wanted to encourage the longer and deeper view of tradition you advocate, and threw out a draft from the then Holy Office which wanted to designate recent magisterial and curial documents as the proximate norm of theology (i.e. anything else was for a tiny cadre of trusted experts). And it's very cear from the present Pope's excellent writing and preaching that he remains a ressourcement theologian.

McCormack said...

I don't really have anything controversial or argumentative to say about this, but I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to write all of this and making things a little clearer.
All the best!

Bernie said...

Kate, 'conservative' (or worse, 'neo-conservative', which has very specific political connotations) seems a somewhat prejudicial term for the 'position' in question, which is principally characterised by a deep commitment of faithfulness to the Successor of Peter.

Notably, it's a term principally used by 'traditionalists', rather than the so-called 'conservatives' themselves, and seems intended to damn them with faint praise!

By the descriptions you give, I seem to fall somewhere between the camps of 'traditionalist' and 'conservative', but really, I simply try to be an orthodox Catholic in all my thinking, faithful to the one continuing Magisterium.

As someone living in the present, that means being faithful to the present Magisterium, in its own faithful interpretation and contemporary application of the Tradition of the Ages.

I see you lean hopefully towards the position, which I certainly hold, that the supposed 'contradictions' traditionalists often find between past and present aren't insuperable. It just means there is theological work to be done - as in every part of the Faith. (For example, it's not easy to avoid contradictions in the doctrine of the Trinity either.)

Regarding the Ordinary Magisterium, true, not 'every word' of the Pope constitutes part of this Magisterium - but the level of authority in a papal (or collegial) statement depends on the teaching intention manifested by the Teacher, and it is clear that the intention of Paul VI was for the doctrines propounded by Vatican II to have some level of binding force (though not to the extent of themselves being infallible definitions).

The 1990 CDF Instruction 'Donum Veritatis', helpfully clarifies, in line with classical theology, the extent to which assent can legitimately be withheld from 'non-irreformable' teachings (although I haven’t found it necessary to avail myself of this).

Kate said...

Bernie - You are right about the labels not being ones we would naturally select for ourselves. Personally I hate traditionalist too since it tends to be read as meaning back to the 1950s, in my view an impossibility (and some perhaps do indeed mean it that way!).

And there are different ways of drawing the lines too - on Ms White's definitions (I pointed to her blog in the post) I'm not sure I count as a traddie at all!

I personally do think there is a high degree of overlap in views between many 'conservatives' and moderate traddies. Fixing the implementation of VII would go a long way to addressing many of the current problems in the Church even if it wouldn't completley solve them, and so 'reform of the reform' for example, is, I think a worthwile enterprise as an intermediate step for example.

Still, the labels are widely used in a great many places, ahve a degree of consistency of meaning and in the absence of anything better...

J M said...

Thank you for your detailed reply to my comment.

Personally, I do not see any problem in accepting all the Church's documents.
I also disagree on all the tags and labels and sub-labels you mention in your post.

I think the two best and most accurate terms are loyal and disloyal, faithful and unfaithful.

You can not go wrong in accepting the Church's teaching as summarised and synthesised in the Cathechism of the Catholic Church,"a sure norm for teaching the Faith" (Bl. John Paul II).

I would also like to know which Vatican II documents and paragraph numbers are incorrect/disputable. The authoritative interpretation of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council has been given by Pope Paul VI, Bl. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

To understand what I mean when I say "to create a contradiction" I would direct you to the following article: "Do Catholics and Muslims worship the same God"
In the article the author attempts (unsuccessfully)to use earlier Popes to contradict the teaching of Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 16.

J M said...

In addition I would like to add this quote from Lumen Gentium which, in my opinion, every Catholic should follow (even to the letter):

LG 25
"In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking."

Kate said...

First I think we need to keep in mind that most of VII is pastoral decisions, not doctrinal. It was not intended to be nor was it a 'dogmatic' council as the current pope has reiterated a few times.

That is not to say that it didn't in fact make some definitions, or teach things of a lower level of certainty that we are prima facie, required to accept.

Still, for the purpose of understanding where people are coming from, I don't think it is particularly helpful to get down to specifics here - personally on Islam for example I'm with St John Damascene who viewed it as essentially just another one of those heresies that denies the Trinity. And what the Catechism (and LG) say on this can be interpreted a number of ways, hence the need for the CDF statement Domine Iesus.

Instead I'd recommend a read of Tracey Rowland's Ratzinger's Faith for example, which goes through the current Pope's theological critique of documents such as Gaudium et Spes.

Or the new book with a forward by Cardinal Pell with the debate between Fr Aidan Nichols and Moyra Doory "The Council in Question A Dialogue with Catholic Traditionalism" which goes to the ins and outs of the dispute over what we are required to believe or not at length (some of this can be read in an earlier form on the UK Catholic Herald website)!

You can find a helpful review of it here:

The reality is that these issues are hotly debated by theologians, and the outcome of the SSPX process could potentially help settle things definitively.

In the end though, I don't actually think the real issue that separates the camps is dogma, but rather culture/attitudes and practice.

I would draw your attention to this comment of the then Cardinal Ratzinger in his book Principles of Catholic Theology (Ignatius Press, 1987), p378:

"Not every valid council in the history of the Church has been a fruitful one; in the last analysis, many of them have been just a waste of time. Despite all the good to be found in the texts it produced, the last word about the historical value of Vatican II has yet to be spoken. If, in the end, it will be numbered among the highlights of Church history depends on those who will transform its words into the life of the Church."

What really separates us is our judgments fifty years on whether there is much sign of a transformation for the better!

Kate said...

I should add JM that you won't find anything on this blog that contradicts the Catechism.

In fact what you will find are many attempts to call people claiming to be catholics (including some bishops) to actually follow it in areas such as the interpretation of Scripture, homosexual practices and marriage, the priesthood and more.

HolyCatholicApostoli said...

Dear Kate,
I have not found anything incorrect in Dietrich von Hildebrand's book, and still think it is a very good work. Interestingly Pope Pius XII informally called von Hildebrand the 20th century Doctor of the Church. I would imagine Iota Unum is another good book. However, I find it hard to believe that pre-Vatican II, things in the Church were perfect, clearly many in the Church saw need for (legitimate)reform. However, if von Hildebrand had not been ignored in 1968 and his warnings were not unheeded Religious life would be flourishing in Australia. I think it would be entirely unfair to blame him for the decline of Religious life.

On another note what are your thoughts on Michael Gilchrist's books Rome or the Bush (1986) and New Church or True Church(1987) and his viewpoint generally.

Kate said...

I agree on Hildebrand - lots of good stuff to like in it, same with many other conservative (European) theologians, traddies will agree with 90%+ of what they say and agree that most of the rest is open theologically to debate. The dividing line comes down to a very few issues. American Whigs like Weigel tend to be a different kettle of fish however!

Can't comment on the Gilchrist books, haven't read them.

J M said...

Thank you for another detailed reply.
I understand that the documents of Vatican II have varying degrees of authority (Constitutions, Decrees and Declarations). I think it is logical to assume that the Dogmatic Constitutions (Dei Verbum and Lumen Gentium) were intended to be Dogmatic.

Having said that, I still think it is dangerous to reject certain parts of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. I do not think one can make a mistake by following the teachings of the council (even Pastoral ones), and would be hesistant to reject the teachings myself. Rather I think it is always good, right and proper to follow what the Church says even if we personally do not agree with it. It is best to interpret Vatican II how the Ordinary Magisterium has interpreted Vatican II since the Council.

Moreover, I agree that most disputes (healthy discussion) between loyal Catholics is not about Dogma, but rather practices, attitudes, etc. Furthermore, I will reiterate, that Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium (througout the ages) does not and can not contradict itself in matters of Faith and Morals.

HolyCatholicApostoli said...

Could you please elaborate on your comment on George Weigel? I do not understand what you mean.

Kate said...

HCA - Weigel is a leading light of the self-described 'Whig Thomist' school who basically try to syntheize the liberal philosophical school with Thomism. I don't consider it a particularly desirable or successful enterprise. It results in a particularly American perspective that often seems to end up defending the indefensible, particularly when it comes to the Church's Social Teachings.

Bernie said...

Kate, I agree that the labels ‘traditionalist’, ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ do seem at first sight to usefully denote three obvious groupings of opinion among Catholics.

The trouble is, conceptualizing things in this way has a tendency to divide the essential unity of the Church - as though these were three equally legitimate ‘opinions’ in the ‘political spectrum’ of Catholic faith.

Just as we don’t have to accept the term ‘pro-choice’, no matter how widely it is used and how obvious to whom it refers, perhaps neither should we accept this polarizing categorization. Or, to take another example, Anglicans like to call Catholics ‘Roman Catholics’, but we don’t need to accept this usage (even if occasionally we do so for convenience).

Pope Benedict XV writes: ‘It is, moreover, Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as “profane novelties of words,” out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: “This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved” (Athanas. Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim “Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,” only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself.’ (‘Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum’ (1914))

In the context of discussing doctrinal divisions, there is no need to categorize a Catholic fully in agreement with the Magisterium in any other way than ‘Catholic’. Doing so would incorrectly suggest that agreement with the Magisterium is just some particular shade of opinion or special interest group within the Church, rather than being the norm and centre. Any divergence from this ‘Catholic’ centre is what should require an additional qualifying term. Conversely, we should abandon altogether the term ‘conservative’ Catholic.

How about this? Views fully in harmony with the teachings of the Church can simply be called ‘Catholic’; positions opposed to infallible teaching can be called ‘non-Catholic’; positions opposed to any teaching, infallible or not, can be called ‘unorthodox’.

As for the persons holding these views, baptized Catholics holding views fully in harmony with the teachings of the Church can simply be called ‘Catholics’; those illegitimately dissenting can be called ‘unorthodox Catholics’.

(Paradoxically, to refer to both these groups together, we’d also simply say ‘Catholics’, but this usage emphasizes that orthodoxy is normative, not simply one of two equally valid positions. If on some exceptional occasion we needed to distinguish the orthodox from the totality, we might say ‘faithful Catholics’ or ‘orthodox Catholics’.)

Kate said...

Bernie - One of the key points I was trying to make in my post is that the distinctions I'm making are not fundamentally about orthodoxy or lack thereof.

While those within one or other of the camps tend to claim all the rest are in error, my argument is that the fundamental division at root is not about adherence to doctrine, but on attitudes towards Vatican II.

That is an issue on which legitimate debate is open and we are entitled to have our own views on. And on which it is often useful to be able to distinguish between where people are coming from.

Bernie said...

I wouldn't go as far as to say that 'legitimate debate was open' on Vatican II. Being an ecumenical council, the first presumption would be that a Catholic would simply adhere to it in full.

Just because debate de facto takes place, it doesn't follow that all parties to the debate are in a 'legitimate' position.

The passage from ‘Lumen Gentium’ (on religious submission of mind and will to non-infallible teachings) quoted by JM is very important.

However, it's true that with lower-level teachings of the prudential order, classical theology before Vatican II, discussion at Vatican II around this very passage, and the post-conciliar Magisterium (‘Donum Veritatis’ 25-31), do all acknowledge a limited possibility of a properly qualified person, in sincere conscience, for sufficient reason, respectfully withholding assent in exceptional cases. (Needless to say, with infallible teachings there is no leeway.)


It's in this very restricted context that we might speak of 'legitimate debate' about the teachings of Vatican II, though full acceptance of the Council remains the default, and the position deserving the term ‘orthodox’.

But I guess what you have in mind is more someone who doesn’t actually dispute the truth of any of the Council’s teachings, but thinks on the whole the Council was inopportune and hasn’t borne positive fruit (as seems to be your own position).

Is ‘traditionalist’ a useful term for this position? It’s a word that needs caution, lumping together people with all manner of degrees of adherence to the Magisterium, and so giving the impression that the affinity between all the ‘traditionalists’ is more important than the full unity in Christ between faithfully Catholic ‘traditionalists’ and ‘conservatives’. (After all, presumably you have more in common with Cardinal Pell than you do with Bishop Richard Williamson SSPX! Yet Pell is a 'conservative' and Williamson a 'traditionalist'.)

So the labels 'traditionalist' and 'conservative', while they may seem useful, really mislead more than they enlighten. As I said in my first post, neither exactly fits me, for example, and if I try to work out which one of them I 'really' am, I'm pursuing a fantasy. The same probably goes for many people.

Perhaps we'll all just have to be content with spelling out our specific positions in more detail, without forcing ourselves into this or that supposed 'camp'. So someone could say, e.g. 'I accept all the teachings of the Church, and I think that Vatican II was beneficial in various ways; I'm hoping for a "reform of the reform" to improve the liturgy worldwide, though I prefer the extraordinary form myself.’ Less convenient, but enlightening rather than misleading.

Kate said...

Bernie I did mention the nutty fringe that give traditionalists a bad name, mostly outside the Church!

But I have almost as much of a problem with some American 'conservative' theologians whose views on social justice issues for example seem to me to be at odds with the Social Doctrine of the Church; with those who preach what I regard as an utterly false and dangerously misleading view of ecumenism/inter-religious dialogue; and a few other issues, as I discovered when doing my Masters degree through a 'conservative' US University!

Secondly, you start your arguments from the wrong end in my view, and perhaps that reflects why we are essentially members of different camps on this issue!

Most of Vatican II's decisions were pastoral decisions whose prudence we can certainly debate. Was it a good idea to change the liturgy? Was it a good idea to seek to reform the religious orders? Were the various lay engagement mechansims proposed (and mostly long since abandoned!) a good idea?

There is a lot of background discussion of various issues. Is it put as well as it could be? Are there things missing from the discussion? Was some of the underlying anthropology utterly wrong! These are legitimate questions for us to discuss.

It is clear there are some infallible bits of it - viz things that had previously been part of the Church's defined teachings. Are there any new infallible teachings? That's highly debatable.

Are there new Ordinary Magisterium teachings. Clearly. And any issues around them are not the proper subject of a blog like this in my view, but are properly part of the theological enterprise.

Militia Immaculata said...

You make some excellent points; however, after reading Hilary White's post as well as a similar article she wrote for the Remnant -- -- I must say that both the post AND the article present straw men (or more like one big, huge straw man). I've never met a single non-traditional-yet-totally-orthodox Catholic who holds the beliefs and views she describes. In fact, especially in the Remnant article, her attitude and tone are typical of the arrogant, condescending way that all too many traditional Catholics label fellow Catholics who are orthodox yet don't share their views (and I say this as a traditional Catholic myself). I used to think that such attitudes were mostly limited to the SSPX, but lately I've begun to wonder -- so much so that I'm strongly tempted to leave my FSSP parish for a regular parish that neverthelss happens to be totally orthodox in every way (yes, those parishes do exist, albeit hard to find).

Kate said...

I do agree with you MI, and in fact I didn't link to the Remnant article because much as I enjoy Ms White's writing, and although it does represent one sub-group's view of traditionalism, in my view it misrepresents traditionalism more broadly.

First it confuses some things that are not and never have been part of ecclesial tradition (I wish those who object to women wearing trousers for example would read the discussions between the Bulgarians and the Church in the ninth century on this subject - the church explicitly did not require them to abandon their own female trouser wearing tradition!).

And secondly, it doesn't seem to accept that the Church can recast its pastoral decisions and way it presents things in ways to suit our times.

The challenge for traditionalists it seems to me, is to assist the Church in grounding itself in orthodoxy and orthopraxis, without rejecting those new insights that are positive, and to remember that theology is in part about making the churches teachings clear to those livng in the here and now.

That said, she does identify some of the problems I have with conservatives too, and some of the errors that have become widespread and insidious!

And it is certainly true that there are inevitable problems with a movement at the margins of the Church that has increasingly been content to isolate itself rather than attempt to convert the mainstream. That is deeply unhealthy for all sides of the equation in my view, and encourages the nuttiness that tends to infiltrate such communities, including of the Bishop Willimason type and more.

There are two problems with leaving though. The first is, in the end, the liturgy. Once upon a time I spent a week visiting an excellent monastery that sang the Office and Mass in Latin. They had vocations. Yet something seemed to me to be missing.

So I spent a day and half in the London Oratory sitting through every variant of the mass said there (and there are lots) - low English with hymns, without, low Latin, Solemn OF, etc etc trying to work out why I longed for the EF. Their Solemn OF after all, was actually pretty hard to distinguish between and EF mass!

I still can't quite pin down what it is, but no matter how much I find myself repelled by traditionalists themselves, I still come up against that basic problem of the alternatives liturgically eventually not quite satisfying my soul.

The second problem is, in the end orthopraxis. Even the most orthodox parish has to make quite large and in my view undesirable compromises in the interests of being part of the wider diocese/meeting the expectations of sub-groups within the parish.

The ideal balance, I tend to think, is most easily achieved in bi-ritual parishes offering Mass under both forms, and where that mutual enrichment process can operate...but of course this is heresy to many hardline traddies!

HolyCatholicApostoli said...

While I haven't read any of Weigel's books, I did see an interview he gave on the ABC's one plus one program,which I thought was quite good (especially against a hostile interviewer)
see it here :

Could you please explain what you mean by defending the indefensible regarding the Church's Social Teaching?

Kate said...

I'm not saying I disagree with everything Weigel and others say though, often they do have useful insights.

On Social Teaching - what amounts to a compassion deficit when ti comes to the treatment of certain groups such as (genuine, not economic) refugees and the rejection of the idea that a community as a whole should make provision for the poor and otherwise disenfranchised, that it should all be left either to the market or the individual to work out. I don't think the Social Encyclicals can be read this way...

Bernie said...

Thanks Kate, your response clarified some things for me.

I'm tantalized by your comment, 'Secondly, you start your arguments from the wrong end in my view, and perhaps that reflects why we are essentially members of different camps on this issue!'...

And just one point about Weigel et al - if they're really out of harmony with the Magisterium on some issues such as social teaching, then are they truly representative of 'conservative' Catholicism with its defining characteristic of strict devotion to the Magisterium?

Kate said...

Bernie - Traddies (and some sub-groups of 'conservatives') would argue that the claimed devotion to the magisterium is an illusion, and in practice just as selective as they accuse some other groups of being.

That has become more evident I think under the current Pope (consider for example the current Pope's comments on environmental issues, includng in Caritas in Veritate; compare and contrast with those who think any concern for the environment is a Greenie plot!). But a particularly good example of the selective approach to ultramontanism under JPII was Iraq when the then Pope expressed the view that it was not a just war - American conservatives mostly disagreed.

And on VII, I think conservatives have tended to focus on claimed doctrinal points in it, and used that as a stick to beat others with. Which seems a strange way to approach a Council that was intended to address pastoral problems, not solve a doctrinal crisis. So why not approach it in the terms it was constructed to be about?

Moreover, although it is true that a few of the constitutions describe themselves as 'dogmatic', since they don't actually make crystal clear what propositions they are defining, let alone say that they have to be believed etc, on the face of it at the very least they fail the necessary test for infallible teaching. And even as ordinary magisterium, it is usual to be clear about what it is actually being taught!

This is why I for one agree with the call for a syllabus of errors in relation to VII:

Kate said...

PS Just came across a useful blog post on this very subject in the current US debate on religious liberty by Mark Shea:

Bernie said...

Kate - I don't think 'pastoral' and 'doctrinal' are at loggerheads, or even in tension. One of the normal means of being a 'good shepherd' is by feeding the flock with the truth of Christ (which is more than just condemning errors).

VII was described as a 'pastoral council' because it wasn't primarily motivated (in Bl. John XXIII's view) by the presence of obvious errors requiring condemnation - its teaching of doctrine had the intended character of a serene, positive exposition and deepening of existing Catholic doctrine, with fresh modes of expression and fresh perspectives - but doctrine it nonetheless was. (It's not my present concern to endorse the wisdom of this aim, just to describe it.) And (as at Trent, and many other Councils) there were practical, disciplinary reform aims as well, intertwined with this.

Like you, I'm also unaware of any infallible definitions from Vatican II, except where earlier infallible teachings were simply being repeated. (I think there exists an official statement from the time, saying as much.)

My normal assumption in reading Vatican II, is that we are dealing with the Ordinary Magisterium (in varying levels of authority), or otherwise reading practical directives. (And I don't think there's too much overall difficulty distinguishing the doctrinal and the practical.)

Or at least no more than elsewhere in Church statements. For example, in encyclicals both past and present, we don't generally find any clear delineation of what level of assent the pope is requiring for this or that statement. Often practical directives are mixed in as well. Vatican II reads exactly the same way.

As for the pro-Iraq war, anti-environmentalist people - accepting for the sake of argument that they truly do formally contradict Church doctrine, again, it just goes to show that these individuals are incorrectly characterized as ultramontanist in the first place. If they directly dissent from the Magisterium, then surely they fall more into the 'liberal' category, even if they dissent on a different set of doctrines to the average liberal.

The point being, the foibles of these people can't be used to criticise ultramontanism, of which they are not actually examples.

Yes, it would warm my heart too if there appeared a syllabus of errors condemning misinterpretations of Vatican II! (Though it might be better PR not to call it 'syllabus of errors', much as I might enjoy such a title personally.)

Kate said...

Things like our view on Iraq and environmental policies are applications of doctrine rather than doctrines in themselves, so I think my description of them as ultramontanist stands scrutiny! And in any case, few people are completely consistent!