Francis, Faggioli, and the Medieval Imagination

At Commonweal, Professor Massimo Faggioli, a Twitter power user who moonlights as a Church historian, has an essay arguing, essentially, that the periods following the Council of Trent and the Vatican Council were just as tumultuous and contested as the period that has followed the Second Vatican Council. The implicit argument is that the post-Conciliar chaos often adduced as an argument against certain Vatican II acts is not dispositive, since there was likewise chaos following Trent and Vatican I. This point is not devoid of force; however, Professor Faggioli does not quite carry the day with his examples. Indeed, his analogies are a mixed bag. For example, he seems to think that St. Pius X’s anti-modernist crusade following Vatican I was “the most serious tragedy in the modern intellectual history of Catholicism,” apparently because the Saint decided that it would be best for theologians not to hold modernist ideas. All of this is very much of a piece with Professor Faggioli’s basic point: everything was terrible until about 1963, then it was fine until the fall of 1978, then it was bad until the spring of 2013. Now everything is fine again.

However, Professor Faggioli pivots from this point to make a broader argument about American Catholicism: it is too enamored of an imaginary medievalism. On its face, this is rubbish. The average American Catholic in a suburban church built in the 1970s, who hears Eucharistic Prayer II week in and week out, and sings the same ten egregious songs  is no more enamored with an imaginary medieval vision of the Church than Professor Faggioli. Indeed, we imagine that many suburban American Catholics subscribe happily to Professor Faggioli’s view that, before Vatican II, the Church was dark and gloomy, and then the Council happened and all those oppressive doctrines were changed. Many probably also subscribe to his views on the liturgical reform. In this regard, Professor Faggioli joins Father Spadaro and Pastor Figueroa on the list of the Pope’s partisans who seem to have almost no understanding of American Catholicism. We shall see in a moment that Professor Faggioli has other, deeper affinities with Father Spadaro and Pastor Figueroa.

First, one also wonders how seriously Professor Faggioli has considered the medieval Church. Recent books like Andrew Willard Jones’s Before Church and State ought to force us to reconsider our biases about the Church in the medieval period, particularly with respect to how it interacted with the state. (Pater Edmund Waldstein’s recent review at First Things of Before Church and State is essential reading.) Moreover, Eamon Duffy’s towering study, The Stripping of the Altars, presents, in many ways, a very different vision of the Church in medieval, pre-reformation England than the gloomy, oppressive vision that one learned in school. Given the pictures painted by Jones and Duffy, one may be excused, we think, for seeing in the medieval world better solutions to the problems that liberalism purports to solve.

That historical quibble aside, what Professor Faggioli means is that some Christian intellectuals have some affinity for a medieval Church or at least the characteristics of a medieval Church. No doubt he would lump Before Church and State and The Stripping of the Altars and the response to those books in as part of this tendency. Now, Professor Faggioli rightly identifies this affinity as a response to religious and political liberalism, especially the crisis that political liberalism now finds itself in. He is not wrong when he says that the fascination with medieval Christianity is a response to a post-Christian world (he limits it to the United States, but we doubt he’d contend that Europe professes the Faith today). However, he seems to find some blameworthiness in this affinity. However, this is simply his hermeneutic at work. Liberalism appears to be breaking down. Now, only a fool would contend that liberalism is not hugely resilient and it may well adapt to the current crisis. It is natural that people begin to ask themselves “what comes next?” One answer to this question is found by recovering the pre-liberal tradition, especially in the teaching of the Church, which was a staunch opponent of liberalism far longer than anyone else.

One wonders whether this is what Professor Faggioli actually objects to; that is, the consideration of a world after liberalism by means returning to the pre-liberal and anti-liberal tradition of the Church. Yet, just as Fr. Spadaro and Pastor Figueroa found themselves at odds with Francis’s thought when they complained about integralism, so too does Professor Faggioli find himself at odds with the Pope. In Laudato si’, Francis appears to call Catholics to consider a world beyond liberalism, if not after liberalism. Consider this passage, one of our favorites:

The technocratic paradigm also tends to dominate economic and political life. The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings. Finance overwhelms the real economy. The lessons of the global financial crisis have not been assimilated, and we are learning all too slowly the lessons of environmental deterioration. Some circles maintain that current economics and technology will solve all environmental problems, and argue, in popular and non-technical terms, that the problems of global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth. They are less concerned with certain economic theories which today scarcely anybody dares defend, than with their actual operation in the functioning of the economy. They may not affirm such theories with words, but nonetheless support them with their deeds by showing no interest in more balanced levels of production, a better distribution of wealth, concern for the environment and the rights of future generations. Their behaviour shows that for them maximizing profits is enough. Yet by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion. At the same time, we have “a sort of ‘superdevelopment’ of a wasteful and consumerist kind which forms an unacceptable contrast with the ongoing situations of dehumanizing deprivation”, while we are all too slow in developing economic institutions and social initiatives which can give the poor regular access to basic resources. We fail to see the deepest roots of our present failures, which have to do with the direction, goals, meaning and social implications of technological and economic growth.

The specialization which belongs to technology makes it difficult to see the larger picture. The fragmentation of knowledge proves helpful for concrete applications, and yet it often leads to a loss of appreciation for the whole, for the relationships between things, and for the broader horizon, which then becomes irrelevant. This very fact makes it hard to find adequate ways of solving the more complex problems of today’s world, particularly those regarding the environment and the poor; these problems cannot be dealt with from a single perspective or from a single set of interests. A science which would offer solutions to the great issues would necessarily have to take into account the data generated by other fields of knowledge, including philosophy and social ethics; but this is a difficult habit to acquire today. Nor are there genuine ethical horizons to which one can appeal. Life gradually becomes a surrender to situations conditioned by technology, itself viewed as the principal key to the meaning of existence. In the concrete situation confronting us, there are a number of symptoms which point to what is wrong, such as environmental degradation, anxiety, a loss of the purpose of life and of community living. Once more we see that “realities are more important than ideas”.

(Emphasis supplied and footnotes omitted.) And Francis, with brilliant clarity, captures the crisis of modern liberalism and proposes a solution:

There is also the fact that people no longer seem to believe in a happy future; they no longer have blind trust in a better tomorrow based on the present state of the world and our technical abilities. There is a growing awareness that scientific and technological progress cannot be equated with the progress of humanity and history, a growing sense that the way to a better future lies elsewhere. This is not to reject the possibilities which technology continues to offer us. But humanity has changed profoundly, and the accumulation of constant novelties exalts a superficiality which pulls us in one direction. It becomes difficult to pause and recover depth in life. If architecture reflects the spirit of an age, our megastructures and drab apartment blocks express the spirit of globalized technology, where a constant flood of new products coexists with a tedious monotony. Let us refuse to resign ourselves to this, and continue to wonder about the purpose and meaning of everything. Otherwise we would simply legitimate the present situation and need new forms of escapism to help us endure the emptiness.

All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution. Science and technology are not neutral; from the beginning to the end of a process, various intentions and possibilities are in play and can take on distinct shapes. Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.

(Emphasis supplied.) Take a moment and consider that: “a bold cultural revolution,” which “appropriate[s] the positive and sustainable progress which has been made” and which “recover[s] the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.”

Francis understands the crisis of liberalism—in the pastoral language for which he has become so famous, he realizes that “people no longer seem to believe in a happy future”—and he understands the answer to “what comes next?” Keep the positive and sustainable progress that has been made, but recover the values that we discarded as we ran toward an ultimately illusory future. Additionally, Faggioli spends some time complaining about Ross Douthat, Rod Dreher, and others who seem to be interested in recovering authentic Christian community in the West. However, he seems to forget that Francis argues that “a loss of the purpose of life and of community living” is a symptom of what is wrong in a modern society in thrall to the technocratic, anthropocentric paradigm. One can say, therefore, that the writers about whom Faggioli complains are attempting to address one of the problems that Francis has identified in modern society. In other words, Christians looking to the medieval Church for guidance in an era of liberalism in crisis are doing nothing more or less than contributing to the “bold cultural revolution” that Francis called for in Laudato si’, even to the point of addressing some of the symptoms of a sick society that Francis identifies.

In a very real sense, then, the Catholics who explore post-liberal possibilities by returning to the Church’s medieval tradition and its subsequent anti-modern and anti-liberal teaching are far closer to the Pope’s vision in Laudato si’ than the Pope’s supporters who cite the same shopworn passages from Dignitatis humanae and Gaudium et spes. What better source for the values and great goals of Christians could there be than the teachings of the Church from Augustine to Aquinas? What better exemplars for this “bold cultural revolution” than France under Louis IX? It is no secret that the most exciting, most interesting thought today is being done by Catholics trying to reclaim the Church’s anti-modern and anti-liberal teachings, so carelessly discarded by Professor Faggioli’s forebears. One has a hard time imagining that a Pope who so perceptively diagnoses the sickness at the heart of modernity could complain that this is somehow inconsistent with his own vision of a postmodern, post-liberal society.

Nevertheless, one might respond that Francis does not want Christians to turn to the medieval Church and the subsequent anti-modern and anti-liberal tradition of the Church as part of this cultural revolution. Yet such a reading is hard to square with Laudato si’, which fits squarely into the Church’s suspicion of modernity and liberalism. At First Things (a publication for which we occasionally write), R.R. Reno, shortly after Francis handed down Laudato si’, described the encyclical as a return to the Church’s anti-modern teaching. Indeed, Reno argues that Laudato si’ presents a postmodern reading of Vatican II’s landmark document, Gaudium et spes. Professor Faggioli makes a similar point, arguing that some conservative Catholics adopt a conciliar postmodernism. That is, some Catholics think that Vatican II no longer has anything to teach us. (Precisely why this matters especially in the case of Vatican II, he never says. Certainly most Catholics no longer think that Trent or Chalcedon have anything to teach us, but you don’t see Professor Faggioli writing articles in Commonweal about that.) But consider this: in 172 notes, Laudato si’ cites Vatican II three times—in point of fact, Gaudium et spes—and generally only for a phrase. Is it possible that an ecumenical council rooted so firmly in the circumstances of the early 1960s is no longer quite so relevant? Indeed, is it possible that, despite the wishes of some aging liberals in Bologna and Berlin and Boston, the world of 2017 does not have overmuch in common with the world of 1965? Francis, at least, seems to understand that the crises of today require thoughtful responses on their own terms, without nostalgia for the false promises of liberalism that were so beguiling in the 1960s.

Whether his staunchest supporters get that is another question.

Cardinal Müller speaks

At the National Catholic Register, there is a very lengthy and very frank interview with Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, until recently the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is well worth reading in its entirety. Naturally, it is with Edward Pentin, who is, we are comfortable saying, the single best English-language Vaticanista today by a country mile. We are sure—as Cardinal Müller himself says—that excerpts will be selected and warped by his enemies, especially in the press, and used to allege that he is a reactionary, out of touch, or an enemy of the Holy Father. This is the tactic progressives have settled on in their frantic attempts to shore up their agenda against the rising resistance from faithful Catholics. We won’t quote every interesting passage, but we will quote what we think is the heart of the interview:

All my life, after the Second Vatican Council, I’ve noticed that those who support so-called progressivism never have theological arguments. The only method they have is to discredit other persons, calling them “conservative” — and this changes the real point, which is the reality of the faith, and not in your personal subjective, psychological disposition. By “conservative,” what do they mean? Someone loves the ways of the 1950s, or old Hollywood films of the 1930s? Was the bloody persecution of Catholics during the French Revolution by the Jacobins progressive or conservative? Or is the denial of the divinity of Christ by the Arians of the fourth century liberal or traditional? Theologically it’s not possible to be conservative or progressive. These are absurd categories: Neither conservatism nor progressivism is anything to do with the Catholic faith. They’re political, polemical, rhetorical forms. The only sense of these categories is discrediting other persons.

We have Holy Scripture, we have eschatological revelation in Jesus Christ, the irreversibility of Jesus Christ, the Incarnation, the salvation of the cross, the Resurrection, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ for the end of the world. … The responsibility of the Pope and the bishops is to overcome the polarization. Therefore, it’s very dangerous for the Church to divide bishops into friends and enemies of the Pope regarding a footnote in an apostolic exhortation. I am sure that anybody will denounce me also for this interview, but I hope that the Holy Father will read my complete interview here and not only some headlines, which cannot give a complete impression of what I said.

(Emphasis supplied.) Read the whole thing.

Newman on the brain

At Gloria.tv, there is a translation of a conference that the late Carlo Cardinal Caffarra would have given on October 21 in London. Cardinal Caffarra’s address would have touched at length on Bl. John Henry Newman’s doctrine of conscience, especially as conscience relates to the papacy. Rather than quote from Cardinal Caffarra’s lecture, which you ought to read, we shall quote from the fifth chapter of Newman’s Letter to the Duke of Norfolk:

I say, then, that the Supreme Being is of a certain character, which, expressed in human language, we call ethical. He has the attributes of justice, truth, wisdom, sanctity, benevolence and mercy, as eternal characteristics in His nature, the very Law of His being, identical with Himself; and next, when He became Creator, He implanted this Law, which is Himself, in the intelligence of all His rational creatures. The Divine Law, then, is the rule of ethical truth, the standard of right and wrong, a sovereign, irreversible, absolute authority in the presence of men and Angels. “The eternal law,” says St. Augustine, “is the Divine Reason or Will of God, commanding the observance, forbidding the disturbance, of the natural order of things.” “The natural law,” says St. Thomas, “is an impression of the Divine Light in us, a participation of the eternal law in the rational creature.” (Gousset, Theol. Moral., t. i. pp. 24, &c.) This law, as apprehended in the minds of individual men, is called “conscience;” and though it may suffer refraction in passing into the intellectual medium of each, it is not therefore so affected as to lose its character of being the Divine Law, but still has, as such, the prerogative of commanding obedience. “The Divine Law,” says Cardinal Gousset, “is the supreme rule of actions; our thoughts, desires, words, acts, all that man is, is subject to the domain of the law of God; and this law is the rule of our conduct by means of our conscience. Hence it is never lawful to go against our conscience; as the fourth Lateran Council says, ‘Quidquid fit contra conscientiam, ædificat ad gehennam.'”

(Emphasis supplied.) Cardinal Caffarra quotes from this section, but turns also to chapter five of the Grammar of Assent. (We have no wish to upstage Cardinal Caffarra, especially now, so we will not parallel his argument, and instead again encourage you to read both his address and the relevant passages of Newman.) Turning back to the Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, we see also that Newman recognized that almost no one spoke in these terms when referring to conscience in his day:

When men advocate the rights of conscience, they in no sense mean the rights of the Creator, nor the duty to Him, in thought and deed, of the creature; but the right of thinking, speaking, writing, and acting, according to their judgment or their humour, without any thought of God at all. They do not even pretend to go by any moral rule, but they demand, what they think is an Englishman’s prerogative, for each to be his own master in all things, and to profess what he pleases, asking no one’s leave, and accounting priest or preacher, speaker or writer, unutterably impertinent, who dares to say a word against his going to perdition, if he like it, in his own way. Conscience has rights because it has duties; but in this age, with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of conscience to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations. It becomes a licence to take up any or no religion, to take up this or that and let it go again, to go to church, to go to chapel, to boast of being above all religions and to be an impartial critic of each of them. Conscience is a stern monitor, but in this century it has been superseded by a counterfeit, which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self-will.

(Emphasis supplied.) It is no less true today than in 1874 that conscience is man’s apprehension of the divine and natural law laid down by God, which must be obeyed at all costs. And it is no less true today than in 1874 that few understand by “conscience” what Newman, relying on authorities no less weighty than Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, meant. Indeed, it seems more true in 2017 than in 1874 that people view conscience as “the right of self-will.”

Indeed, in so much recent discourse in the Church, it seems that the world’s definition of conscience has been taken instead of Newman’s. Not so long ago, an American bishop, now raised to the purple by the Holy Father, spoke of conscience not as God’s law apprehended by a rational creature, but as a decision, made at the end of a process. Now, it is true that this bishop did not go so far as the liberals of Newman’s day, but once one accepts conscience as a sort of judgment, rather than an individual’s implementation of God’s “sovereign, irreversible, absolute authority,” one is already skipping down the primrose path of liberalism. And no one was a stauncher opponent of liberalism than Cardinal Newman. Difficult questions of moral theology—questions of adultery, homosexual behavior, and access to the sacraments, to name but three—are once again being debated, with liberals invoking conscience in support of their positions. Liberalism is on the march again in the Roman Church. And, as an opponent of liberalism, Newman stands squarely against any attempt to turn conscience into nothing more than private judgment, into the more or less educated decision of a person to comply or not with God’s law. It is no wonder then that Newman was on Cardinal Caffarra’s mind.

As it becomes clear that progressives in the Church insist on relitigating every battle since 1965—as they obviously think that the Holy Father will give them their every wish, whether he will or not—it becomes equally clear that a return to theologians like Newman is necessary. You have no doubt heard the disquieting rumors that even Humanae vitae is in the sights of the modernists and progressives, to say nothing of the recent fights in Catholic social media over homosexuality. We do not think the Holy Father is prepared to go as far as the modernists and progressives demanding this or that accommodation, but it is in the nature of modernism for its adherents to go beyond legitimate authority. At this moment, it is necessary to recover the entire anti-liberal teaching of the Church, including the great papal teachings from Gregory XVI to Pius XI, in addition to Newman’s thought. Liberalism is nothing new, however new and upsetting the assault of the progressives may be. And the great anti-liberal popes and thinkers like Newman fought liberalism to a standstill.

 

Pius IX and the ecclesiology of Twitter

We heard today that roving gangs of cyber-bullying Catholics are a problem in terms of the institutional Church. Indeed, we heard today that this has ecclesiological consequences. Even assuming that this is not the continuation of a Twitter beef in highfalutin terms, an assumption we ourselves would not readily make, the assertion is a little silly. (The author mostly seems to complain about anyone interested in orthodoxy qua orthodoxy, since he also complains about the Holy Office in the 1950s under the great Cardinal Ottaviani.) In this context, Pius IX’s 1863 Letter to Archbishop von Döllinger of Munich, Tuas libenter, makes an extraordinarily interesting point:

Dum vero debitas illis deferimus laudes, quod professi sint veritatem, quae ex catholicae fidei obligatione necessario oritur, persuadere Nobis volumus, noluisse obligationem, qua catholici Magistri ac Scriptores omnino adstringuntur, coarctare in iis tantum, quae ab infallibili Ecclesiae iudicio veluti fidei dogmata ab omnibus credenda proponuntur. Atque etiam Nobis persuademus, ipsos noluisse declarare, perfectam illam erga revelatas veritates adhaesionem, quam agnoverunt necessariam omnino esse ad verum scientiarum progressum assequendum et ad errores confutandos, obtineri posse, si dumtaxat Dogmatibus ab Ecclesia expresse definitis fides et obsequium adhibeatur. Namque etiamsi ageretur de illa subiectione, quae fidei divinae actu est praestanda, limitanda tamen non esset ad ea, quae expressis, oecumenicorum Conciliorum aut Romanorum Pontificum, huiusque Apostolicae Sedis decretis definita sunt, sed ad ea quoque extendenda quae ordinario totius Ecclesiae per orbem dispersae magisterio tanquam divinitus revelata traduntur, ideoque universali et constanti consensu a catholicis Theologis ad fidem pertinere retinentur.

(Emphasis supplied.) A translation may be found at DH 2879. The Second Vatican Council cites Tuas libenter in a note to Lumen gentium 25. We would also direct the interested reader to Ford and Grisez’s 1978 essay, Contraception and the Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium, pages 274 and 275.

Food for thought, no?

 

Waldstein on “Before Church and State”

If you have followed Catholic Twitter this past summer, you know that Andrew Willard Jones’s Before Church and State has been the book. The Josias even arranged an online reading group for it. In fact, it has been so popular that one is somewhat reminded of Anthony Blanche’s quip in Brideshead Revisited: “it’s so banal saying you have not read the book of the moment, if you haven’t.” We have it on good authority that Emmaus Academic has been somewhat surprised with the popularity of what is, ultimately, an academic text on a somewhat narrow subject. They ought to be prepared for more popularity, though: Pater Edmund Waldstein, a great friend of Semiduplex, has reviewed Before Church and State for First Things. We will not spoil the review—instead we encourage you to read it at First Things—but we will quote its last paragraph:

Even a short time ago—with the ascendancy of the “religious right” in the Reagan and Bush years—it was plausible to argue that the separation of church and state was good for religion. The accelerating pace of secularization manifested, for instance, in the legalization of homosexual marriage makes that position much less plausible today. Before Church and State offers an alternative vision, a vision that could be realized only by a profound and fundamental transformation of the whole of our society. I am convinced that in working toward such a transformation, we have nothing to lose.

(Emphasis supplied.) This is the fundamental question for Christians in 2017: what do Christians have to lose by rejecting the false promises of liberalism and returning to the teachings of the Church on the constitution of the state? To look at it another way, what does liberalism offer us that we could not afford to exchange for a justly ordered state?

In these terms, it is impossible—we think—to disagree with Waldstein.

The Ratchet

Today, with little advance notice, the Holy Father issued his Apostolic Letter motu proprio data Magnum principium. The upshot of the letter is that bishops’ conferences now have the authority to prepare translations of liturgical books, subject to confirmation by the Holy See. In technical terms, canon 838 has been modified to reflect this order. We are told in an anonymous note on canon 838 “in the light of conciliar and post-conciliar sources” that

The “confirmatio” is an authoritative act by which the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments ratifies the approval of the Bishops, leaving the responsibility of translation, understood to be faithful, to the doctrinal and pastoral munus of the Conferences of Bishops. In brief, the “confirmatio”, ordinarily granted based on trust and confidence, supposes a positive evaluation of the faithfulness and congruence of the texts produced with respect to the typical Latin text, above all taking account of the texts of greatest importance (e.g. the sacramental formulae, which require the approval of the Holy Father, the Order of Mass, the Eucharistic Prayers and the Prayers of Ordination, which all require a detailed review).

(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, Magnum principium appears to imagine CDW rubber-stamping what the bishops approve. We are told that this is a more authentic implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium 22 § 2. Whether it is or not, this will be seen as a major victory for the progressives, who have, for fifty years, talked endlessly about adapting the liturgy to local conditions and doing away with the uniformity in liturgy that apparently scarred their youths. Now, the episcopal conferences will prepare translations, which the Holy See anticipates confirming “on trust and confidence” in the conferences’ judgments in the “faithfulness and congruence of the texts with respect to the typical Latin text.”

It is, of course, in our opinion a sort of strange sign for a pontificate that began with big gestures like Evangelii gaudium, Laudato si’, and even Amoris laetitia to turn to the project of making middle-aged felt-banner enthusiasts happy. That is to say that, so far, the Holy Father’s vision has seemed much grander than questions of which translation of the Mass of Paul VI is most pleasing to liberal liturgists. Additionally, the Holy Father has so far not seemed overly exercised about the endless struggles between progressives and more orthodox Catholics about Vatican II. Indeed, it is by no means clear that the Holy Father is hugely invested in the Vatican II question. At the same time, it is plain that retrenching the post-Vatican II liturgical order has been much on the Holy Father’s mind lately. Recall his speech to the Italian liturgists:

The direction traced by the Council was in line with the principle of respect for healthy tradition and legitimate progress (cf. SC, 23), in the liturgical books promulgated by Blessed Paul VI, well received by the very Bishops who were present at the Council, and now in universal use for almost 50 years in the Roman Rite. The practical application, supervised by the Episcopal Conferences of the respective Countries, is still ongoing, because reforming the liturgical books does not suffice to renew mentality. The books reformed in accordance with the decrees of Vatican II introduced a process that demands time, faithful reception, practical obedience, wise implementation in celebrations, firstly, on the part of the ordained ministers, but also of other ministers, of cantors and all those who take part in the liturgy. In truth, we know, that the liturgical education of Pastors and faithful is a challenge to be faced ever anew. Paul VI himself, a year before his death, said to the Cardinals gathered in the Consistory: “The time has now come to definitively leave aside divisive elements, which are equally pernicious in both senses, and to apply fully, in accordance with the correct criteria that inspired it, the reform approved by Us in the application of the wishes of the Council”.

And today, there is still work to be done in this direction, in particular by rediscovering the reasons for the decisions taken with regard to the liturgical reform, by overcoming unfounded and superficial readings, a partial reception, and practices that disfigure it. It is not a matter of rethinking the reform by reviewing the choices in its regard, but of knowing better the underlying reasons, through historical documentation, as well as of internalizing its inspirational principles and of observing the discipline that governs it. After this magisterium, after this long journey, We can affirm with certainty and with magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible.

The task of promoting and safeguarding the liturgy is entrusted by right to the Apostolic See and to the diocesan bishops on whose responsibility and authority I greatly rely at the present moment; national and diocesan liturgical pastoral bodies, educational Institutes and Seminaries are also involved.

(Emphasis supplied.) Setting to one side the Holy Father’s decision to minimize Sacrosanctum Concilium 22 § 1 in favor of episcopal conferences and to minimize the responsibility and authority of individual diocesan bishops, this speech seems to reflect the standard narrative of Vatican II. That is, a reform moving ever forward toward some more or less poorly defined endpoint.

Of course, it is entirely possible that this reflects some sort of reaction to the response to the grander elements of the Holy Father’s program. Curia reform appears to be something better discussed than implemented. Despite the increasingly extreme weather observed in the United States and elsewhere, there seems to be little interest in Rome or Washington in taking up Laudato si’ and the environmental question again. Amoris laetitia has turned into an extremely complicated, unpleasant situation, with prelates and theologians debating seriously the implications of private letters and unanswered dubia, among other things. Indeed, recently the American bishops had an invitation-only conference in Orlando about Evangelii gaudium; they wanted to promote its reception and understanding by Catholic leaders. Whatever that means. It is a strange thing to do, over four years into a pontificate, to return to a “programmatic” document, as if the intervening priorities of the pontificate never happened. It is possible, we think, that the Holy Father has turned to the question of liturgy, so long a topic almost entirely controlled by party spirit, to accomplish some things broadly pleasing to his core constituency.

Candidly we were not surprised to see Magnum principium. It does not reflect the broad scope of the Holy Father’s vision, but even visionaries have to help their supporters. (Cf. p. 70 of Syme’s Roman Revolution.) We were, however, hugely surprised to read this in Magnum principium:

The goal of the translation of liturgical texts and of biblical texts for the Liturgy of the Word is to announce the word of salvation to the faithful in obedience to the faith and to express the prayer of the Church to the Lord. For this purpose it is necessary to communicate to a given people using its own language all that the Church intended to communicate to other people through the Latin language. While fidelity cannot always be judged by individual words but must be sought in the context of the whole communicative act and according to its literary genre, nevertheless some particular terms must also be considered in the context of the entire Catholic faith because each translation of texts must be congruent with sound doctrine.

It is no surprise that difficulties have arisen between the Episcopal Conferences and the Apostolic See in the course of this long passage of work. In order that the decisions of the Council about the use of vernacular languages in the liturgy can also be of value in the future a vigilant and creative collaboration full of reciprocal trust between the Episcopal Conferences and the Dicastery of the Apostolic See that exercises the task of promoting the Sacred Liturgy, i.e. the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, is absolutely necessary. For this reason, in order that the renewal of the whole liturgical life might continue, it seemed opportune that some principles handed on since the time of the Council should be more clearly reaffirmed and put into practice.

(Emphasis supplied.) What a startling admission from the Holy See. The Holy See has been, in its approach to translations of liturgical texts, defending the “entire Catholic faith” because “each translation of texts must be congruent with sound doctrine.” For some reason, “difficulties have arisen” between episcopal conferences and the Holy See in this work. That is, episcopal conferences and the Holy See have been at odds about whether or not liturgical texts are “congruent with sound doctrine”? What an extraordinary, unsettling admission. And what an extraordinary, unsettling solution: devolution of authority over liturgical translations to the same episcopal conferences that have been involved in “difficulties” with the Holy See.

In all of this, we cannot help but be reminded of Paul VI’s statement introducing his great Credo of the People of God. (It seems that Paul VI has been on our mind just as he has been on the Holy Father’s mind.) When he spoke, Paul said, in terms that are no less frank than the terms the Holy Father likes to use:

Likewise, we deem that we must fulfill the mandate entrusted by Christ to Peter, whose successor we are, the last in merit; namely, to confirm our brothers in the faith. With the awareness, certainly, of our human weakness, yet with all the strength impressed on our spirit by such a command, we shall accordingly make a profession of faith, pronounce a creed which, without being strictly speaking a dogmatic definition, repeats in substance, with some developments called for by the spiritual condition of our time, the creed of Nicea, the creed of the immortal tradition of the holy Church of God.

In making this profession, we are aware of the disquiet which agitates certain modern quarters with regard to the faith. They do not escape the influence of a world being profoundly changed, in which so many certainties are being disputed or discussed. We see even Catholics allowing themselves to be seized by a kind of passion for change and novelty. The Church, most assuredly, has always the duty to carry on the effort to study more deeply and to present, in a manner ever better adapted to successive generations, the unfathomable mysteries of God, rich for all in fruits of salvation. But at the same time the greatest care must be taken, while fulfilling the indispensable duty of research, to do no injury to the teachings of Christian doctrine. For that would be to give rise, as is unfortunately seen in these days, to disturbance and perplexity in many faithful souls.

(Emphasis supplied.) Despite Paul’s statement, perhaps intended to contradict the narrative of progress moving ever forward, eventually leaving behind the truths of the faith in favor of “a kind of passion for change and novelty,” it is clear that the progressive wing of the Church holds firm to the view the Church in the wake of the Council must move ever forward into change and novelty, even at the cost of increasing disquiet and disturbance and perplexity in many faithful souls.

The ratchet, dear reader, only moves one way.

Why not Newman?

It occurred to us, after writing about Cardinal Newman’s sixth note of an authentic development, set forth in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, that some may resist approaching contemporary questions through Newman’s schema. But this presents a serious problem, to our mind: where else is the notion of development set forth? That is, if you do not approach the question through Newman, how do you approach the question? We will see that not every notion of development has met with ecclesiastical approval. Indeed, St. Pius X condemned in strong terms the sort of development that many progressives today want to employ. However, we shall see in a moment that St. Pius X provides us with a way forward—under the terms recently articulated by Archbishop Fernandez in defense of Amoris laetitia. The answer? Newman’s notes.

The question is of course more than merely academic. The progressives want—need—some doctrine of development in the Church. Otherwise, their project is dead in the water. Hopelessly, irretrievably dead. Of course, they could simply abandon it, but one does not abandon the stuff which careers are made of. At any rate, they want development, but they do not always want Cardinal Newman’s development. Sure, it’s great to mention Cardinal Newman in an essay. The mere mention of his name evokes all sorts of warm feelings of theological brilliance and English charm. Unfortunately, one does not always want to let Newman say very much. Why? Well, it turns out that Newman was just as ready to find corruptions of doctrine as authentic developments. Readier, perhaps, when one goes through the seven notes carefully. Newman’s project, at least superficially, was to show that the faith of Leo XIII and the faith of St. Peter were indistinguishable, not to open the door to communion for bigamists or same-sex “marriage.” Therefore, while Newman is a fine mascot, he’s by no means as tame as the progressives would like; accordingly, they are leery of giving him too much say. However, without Newman the proponents of development are left in a sticky situation.

The fact of the matter is that Lamentabili and Pascendi both come down, quite strongly, against some ideas of development. Consider this passage from St. Pius X’s Pascendi:

To finish with this whole question of faith and its shoots, it remains to be seen, Venerable Brethren, what the Modernists have to say about their development. First of all they lay down the general principle that in a living religion everything is subject to change, and must change, and in this way they pass to what may be said to be, among the chief of their doctrines, that of Evolution. To the laws of evolution everything is subject – dogma, Church, worship, the Books we revere as sacred, even faith itself, and the penalty of disobedience is death. The enunciation of this principle will not astonish anybody who bears in mind what the Modernists have had to say about each of these subjects. Having laid down this law of evolution, the Modernists themselves teach us how it works out. And first with regard to faith. The primitive form of faith, they tell us, was rudimentary and common to all men alike, for it had its origin in human nature and human life. Vital evolution brought with it progress, not by the accretion of new and purely adventitious forms from without, but by an increasing penetration of the religious sentiment in the conscience. This progress was of two kinds: negative, by the elimination of all foreign elements, such, for example, as the sentiment of family or nationality; and positive by the intellectual and moral refining of man, by means of which the idea was enlarged and enlightened while the religious sentiment became more elevated and more intense. For the progress of faith no other causes are to be assigned than those which are adduced to explain its origin. But to them must be added those religious geniuses whom we call prophets, and of whom Christ was the greatest; both because in their lives and their words there was something mysterious which faith attributed to the divinity, and because it fell to their lot to have new and original experiences fully in harmony with the needs of their time. The progress of dogma is due chiefly to the obstacles which faith has to surmount, to the enemies it has to vanquish, to the contradictions it has to repel. Add to this a perpetual striving to penetrate ever more profoundly its own mysteries. Thus, to omit other examples, has it happened in the case of Christ: in Him that divine something which faith admitted in Him expanded in such a way that He was at last held to be God. The chief stimulus of evolution in the domain of worship consists in the need of adapting itself to the uses and customs of peoples, as well as the need of availing itself of the value which certain acts have acquired by long usage. Finally, evolution in the Church itself is fed by the need of accommodating itself to historical conditions and of harmonising itself with existing forms of society. Such is religious evolution in detail. And here, before proceeding further, we would have you note well this whole theory of necessities and needs, for it is at the root of the entire system of the Modernists, and it is upon it that they will erect that famous method of theirs called the historical.

(Emphasis supplied.) Consider also some propositions condemned in Lamentabili:

  • “Revelation, constituting the object of the Catholic faith, was not completed with the Apostles.”
  • “Dogmas, Sacraments and hierarchy, both their notion and reality, are only interpretations and evolutions of the Christian intelligence which have increased and perfected by an external series of additions the little germ latent in the Gospel.”
  • “Christ did not teach a determined body of doctrine applicable to all times and all men, but rather inaugurated a religious movement adapted or to be adapted to different times and places.”
  • “Scientific progress demands that the concepts of Christian doctrine concerning God, creation, revelation, the Person of the Incarnate Word, and Redemption be re-adjusted.”

These, and other propositions, cut strongly against the proposition that the Church broadly approves the notion of the development of doctrine. In sum, we can say that Pius was deeply suspicious of the idea of development or evolution.

Now, the clever progressive will at this moment cite Dignitatis humanae 1, which talks about bringing forth new things from the treasury of the Church’s doctrine and about developing the doctrine of recent popes on the rights of man and the constitution of states (i.e., Pius IX and Leo XIII). Ah, this hypothetical clever progressive will assert, the Church says doctrine can develop, and therefore we do not need Newman. Two responses come to mind. First, it is true: Dignitatis humanae says these things. But, as Francis and Archbishop Guido Pozzo have said in their comments about the situation with the Society of St. Pius X, the magisterial weight of Dignitatis humanae is by no means clear or clearly great. Second, what theory of development does Dignitatis humanae actually propose? It makes some broad assertions about development, but it also observes that “it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ” (DH 1). It touches therefore only upon “immunity from coercion in civil society” (DH 1). So, in addition to lacking an overarching hermeneutic of development, it is unclear how much development Dignitatis humanae itself actually does. Now, we admit that this is a greatly disputed topic, with all sorts of arguments advanced one way and the other, but we are by no means sure that citation to Dignitatis humanae will save the progressive who wants to chuck Newman for a broader idea of development.

And turning to the progressives’ idea of development more broadly, that is, the process by which development is supposed to take place, consider Pius’s description of the methods of the modernists:

Still continuing the consideration of the evolution of doctrine, it is to be noted that Evolution is due no doubt to those stimulants styled needs, but, if left to their action alone, it would run a great risk of bursting the bounds of tradition, and thus, turned aside from its primitive vital principle, would lead to ruin instead of progress. Hence, studying more closely the ideas of the Modernists, evolution is described as resulting from the conflict of two forces, one of them tending towards progress, the other towards conservation. The conserving force in the Church is tradition, and tradition is represented by religious authority, and this both by right and in fact; for by right it is in the very nature of authority to protect tradition, and, in fact, for authority, raised as it is above the contingencies of life, feels hardly, or not at all, the spurs of progress. The progressive force, on the contrary, which responds to the inner needs lies in the individual consciences and ferments there – especially in such of them as are in most intimate contact with life. Note here, Venerable Brethren, the appearance already of that most pernicious doctrine which would make of the laity a factor of progress in the Church. Now it is by a species of compromise between the forces of conservation and of progress, that is to say between authority and individual consciences, that changes and advances take place. The individual consciences of some of them act on the collective conscience, which brings pressure to bear on the depositaries of authority, until the latter consent to a compromise, and, the pact being made, authority sees to its maintenance.

(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, Pius condemns no less strongly the idea that the development of doctrine is some kind of negotiation between progressives and reactionaries. Therefore, in Pascendi, one finds a strong condemnation of the sort of development that a lot of commentators want to enshrine in the Catholic faith. They seem to envision progressive theologians battling reactionary theologians until the pope decides the question definitively, usually opening up a little room for the progressive opinion without forcing the reactionaries into schism. This little room, then, becomes an authentic development. (The fact that it was a compromise extracted from authority through disobedience and dissent is, like a first marriage, politely passed over as soon as the case is closed.) Not so, St. Pius X tells us, not so.

Now, of course, one can pause here to critique the revolutionary, Hegelian approach adopted by the progressives. Note that, to put it in those terms, Pius condemns the idea of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. And it is obvious that the progressives intend to make a revolution in the Church through these means, as they have intended for many years. But such a critique is unnecessary at this moment. It is enough to know that their method was condemned, even if it was successful, oh, not quite sixty years after Pascendi was promulgated. It is more than enough to recall that the goal of the method is fundamentally revolutionary.

At any rate, without Newman, the progressives have a hard time articulating a coherent vision of development that has not been itself condemned by competent authority. But there is an argument, following lines recently advanced, that Newman’s vision of development has been approved by competent authority. Since—as Archbishop Fernandez has told us recently, citing Lumen gentium‘s citation in the supplementary notes of a letter of Pius IX to the German bishops—the correspondence of a pope can, as if by magic, bestow magisterial authority upon various documents, we must consider St. Pius X’s 1908 Letter to the Bishop of Limerick Tuum illud opusculum, A.S.S. 41 (1908) 200–02, which approved the tract by Bishop O’Dwyer, demonstrating that Newman’s works were entirely consistent with Pascendi and Lamentabili. There, Pius stated:

We hereby inform you that your essay, in which you show that the writings of Cardinal Newman, far from being in disagreement with Our Encyclical Letter Pascendi, are very much in harmony with it, has been emphatically approved by Us: for you could not have better served both the truth and the dignity of man. It is clear that those people whose errors We have condemned in that Document had decided among themselves to produce something of their own invention with which to seek the commendation of a distinguished person. And so they everywhere assert with confidence that they have taken these things from the very source and summit of authority, and that therefore We cannot censure their teachings, but rather that We had even previously gone so far as to condemn what such a great author had taught. Incredible though it may appear, although it is not always realised, there are to be found those who are so puffed up with pride that it is enough to overwhelm the mind, and who are convinced that they are Catholics and pass themselves off as such, while in matters concerning the inner discipline of religion they prefer the authority of their own private teaching to the pre-eminent authority of the Magisterium of the Apostolic See. Not only do you fully demonstrate their obstinacy but you also show clearly their deceitfulness. For, if in the things he had written before his profession of the Catholic faith one can justly detect something which may have a kind of similarity with certain Modernist formulas, you are correct in saying that this is not relevant to his later works. Moreover, as far as that matter is concerned, his way of thinking has been expressed in very different ways, both in the spoken word and in his published writings, and the author himself, on his admission into the Catholic Church, forwarded all his writings to the authority of the same Church so that any corrections might be made, if judged appropriate.

(Emphasis supplied.) Pius concludes his letter, ringing with denunciations of the modernists by saying:

Would that they should follow Newman the author faithfully by studying his books without, to be sure, being addicted to their own prejudices, and let them not with wicked cunning conjure anything up from them or declare that their own opinions are confirmed in them; but instead let them understand his pure and whole principles, his lessons and inspiration which they contain. They will learn many excellent things from such a great teacher: in the first place, to regard the Magisterium of the Church as sacred, to defend the doctrine handed down inviolately by the Fathers and, what is of highest importance to the safeguarding of Catholic truth, to follow and obey the Successor of St. Peter with the greatest faith.

(Emphasis supplied.) If Francis’s politely appreciative letter to the Argentine bishops about their norms for the implementation of chapter 8 of Amoris laetitia is enough to invest those norms with magisterial authority or to constitute an authoritative interpretation of Amoris laetitia, then it seems unavoidable that Pius’s letter to Bishop O’Dwyer is enough to invest not only his pamphlet but also Newman’s work with some magisterial authority. At the very least, it is sufficient to spare Newman’s notion of development, including his seven notes, from the condemnations of evolution and development in Lamentabili and Pascendi.

Therefore, we see that the progressives disregard Newman at their own peril. For one thing, development of doctrine has not met with uniform favor from the Church. Pius X condemned in strong terms the sort of development that one sees most commonly advanced by progressives, furthering their revolutionary agenda. It is true that the Second Vatican Council, notably in Dignitatis humanae, spoke of development, but it is impossible to say more than that without wading into controversy and uncertainty. On the other hand, Pius X approved Bishop O’Dwyer’s pamphlet showing that Newman was by no means a modernist and the pope recommended warmly Newman’s writings. Following the recent argument of Archbishop Fernandez regarding Francis’s letter to the Buenos Aires bishops (and Pius IX’s letter to the German bishops), we can say that Pius X’s letter has provided some measure of official approval to Newman and Newman’s theory of the development of doctrine. And all of this brings us back to Newman’s notes.