The proper attitude to the SSPX

Notes Father John Hunwicke:

In the relationship between the Holy See and the SSPX, there is one enormous fundamental problem, which is so obvious that few people mention it. As a member of an Ordinariate, Benedict XVI’s other and successful ecumenical endeavour, I have a natural interest in this question and pray for its resolution. That is the locus standi from which I ask the following question.

SSPX and the Vatican … is this a matter of Ecumenism or of Church Discipline? Is the SSPX a group of beloved Separated Brethren with whom we Catholics should, in accordance with the mandate of Vatican II, strain every sinew to secure unity … because, with their immensely rich spirituality, they have so much to offer the Catholic Church; or is it merely a portion of the Latin Church in an irregular canonical situation which needs to be thoroughly bashed around the head, like the Franciscans of the Immaculate, until it abjectly grovels?

Or, to put the same point (again) differently: Is it really Vatican policy to wait a millennium or half a millennium for Time to solidify and make ever more bitter the break between Rome and the SSPX, and, once the breach is sufficiently long-term, acrimonious, and definitive, then finally, but only then, to move on to all the sentimental and cuddly rituals of the Open-Arms Dear-Sister-Churches part of the ecumenical process? I know there is an old saw about Rome thinking in terms of centuries … but can that really be the plan?

(Hat tip to Jeff Culbreath, who I’m going to add to my blogroll.)

13 Responses

  1. I would suggest that the SSPX exhibits precisely what Bl John Henry Newman called, “the proper disposition towards heresy and schism; I mean, that they rely on things more than on persons, and go through a round of duties in one and the same way, because they are used to them, and because in consequence they are attached to them, not as having any intelligent faith in a divine oracle which has ordered them; and that in consequence they would start in irritation, as they have started, from such indications of that Oracle’s existence as is necessarily implied in the promulgation of a new definition of faith.”

  2. MPS wrote. “the promulgation of a new definition of faith.”
    .
    But if the “new definition of faith” is not a break with the old definition of faith and merely a flowing continuity, then why can’t both be practiced simultaneously and still be loyal to the “diviine oracle”?
    .
    P. Benedict’s restoration of the Latin Mass suggests that this is possible.
    .
    The SSPX should be reunited with the Catholic Church and the traditions it preserved affirmed, not subsumed. To do otherwise is to lend credence to the herneneutic of rupture.

  3. Ecumenism is only for Christians to the left of Catholic orthodoxy.

  4. I believe the crux of Newman’s criticism lies in the words, “they rely on things more than on persons…”

    The first Christians believed that the apostles were messengers who had been sent (for that is what ἀπόστολος means) by God. Faith, as Newman says elsewhere “it is assenting to a doctrine as true, which we do not see, which we cannot prove, because God says it is true, who cannot lie. And further than this, since God says it is true, not with His own voice, but by the voice of His messengers, it is assenting to what man says, not simply viewed as a man, but to what he is commissioned to declare, as a messenger, prophet, or ambassador from God.”

    They had explicit faith in that portion of the apostolic teaching they had heard and implicit faith in whatever else they (or their successors) might deliver. “[W]hatever an Apostle said, his converts were bound to believe; when they entered the Church, they entered it in order to learn. The Church was their teacher; they did not come to argue, to examine, to pick and choose, but to accept whatever was put before them.”

    If that was faith in the apostolic age, that is what it must be now, for the nature of faith does not change and it depends, now, as then, on the living voice.

  5. I would suggest, and perhaps SSPX might agree, that attention to ritual, form, and order especially in the Holy Mass does nothing to alienate the faithful from “the living voice”; it merely presents that voice in the context of an age old, beautiful. and prayerful expression of Truth, the latin mass.
    .
    I am thus grateful for P. Benedict’s sensitivity by reviving one form of the traditional Latin mass. I hear the message of the “persons” most resoundingly in this form of liturgy.
    .
    Issues of Ecumenism. Collegiality, and the use of vague landuage in the wording of the encyclicals must also be charitably addressed, as the latter has caused confusion among the faithful.

  6. Hi Michael P-S,

    This is a good answer, and a very appropriate quote from Cardinal Newman. It’s the answer I myself would have given a year ago (except I wouldn’t have had the quote handy, not being as well read as you are), but I can no longer find it adequate.

    I believe my eyes more than things or persons, and it seems to me a plain observation that SSPX have kept the faith better than the segment of the Church nominally loyal to Rome. Listen to how Catholic priests in good standing speak about Pius IX through XII, how they describe the Syllabus and the holy struggle against liberalism. The Lefebvrists disobeyed one dead and two live popes, but the rest of the Catholics despise all the previous popes and disobey the recent ones on much graver issues–all without consequence. We are encouraged in our contempt for the Church through most of her history, because if the pre-1960s Church was even decent, the demolition work of Vatican II wouldn’t be the greatest event in the history of the world that we’re demanded to believe it was. If Archbishop Lefebvre had been an abortion and sodomy supporter, if he had denied Christ’s miracles and divinity, he would have died in full communion with the Church. I read new stories about priests and theology professors doing these things every week, and the non-response is nearly always the same. How can I respect an oracle with so little respect for itself?

  7. I’m not sure how apt an application of that passage this is (the two paragraphs of section 7 here). Newman is criticizing, in the Eastern Orthodox, what we would today call, in a different context, “cultural Catholicism.” He is criticizing the sort of comfortable “we’ve always done it this way” response to attempts at reform. This becomes clearer by reading all of section 7 of the linked document.

    Accepting Newman’s frame, we can say that, back in the 1970s, this might have been a good critique of the SSPX. There are certainly quotes from Abp Lefebvre in which he is pleading that the SSPX just be allowed to go on saying the Vetus Ordo. There are echos of this in some of their rhetoric today—they point to pre-1965 Catholicism and say things like “if we are wrong, then they were wrong.”

    But overall, today, it seems to miss the mark. To become a priest of the society or, as a layperson, to decide to become involved with them requires not traveling down the comfortable, well-worn grooves of contemporary cultural Catholicism. It requires, instead, a decision to strike out away from it. The SSPX seem to me to be more like the Protestants Newman is praising than like the Orthodox he is critiquing.

    To be clear about the distinction I am making, there is a big difference between the carpenter who refuses to use a steel hammer to drive nails because he’s always used a cast-iron one and the carpenter who refuses to use a plastic wrench to drive nails because his old steel hammer is better for the job.

    One does not have to accept Newman’s frame, though, and I expect many traditionalists would find it uncomfortable. Newman is the patron saint of neoCats, and that shines through here. There is a tension between holding fast that faith which has been believed everywhere, always and by all (as St Vincent would have it) and rushing to believe every seemingly strange thing a modern Pope says.

  8. According to the late Fr. Malachi Martin, Pope John Paul II was originally planning on going to Econe to do the episcopal ordinations of Lefebvre’s successors himself. But then the heads of several European bishops conferences confronted the pope and told him that if he did that, they’d immediately go into formal schism. Whether the story is true or not, my thought was, “Would a de jure schism really be that much worse than the de facto schism they’re already in?”

  9. For nearly a century before the Second Vatican Council, the Church had been riven by division.

    As Maurice Blondel, writing in 1904, said “With every day that passes, the conflict between tendencies that set Catholic against Catholic in every order–social, political, philosophical–is revealed as sharper and more general. One could almost say that there are now two quite incompatible “Catholic mentalities,” particularly in France. And that is manifestly abnormal, since there cannot be two Catholicisms.” Responding to a national survey in 1907, Blondel articulated his sense of the “present crisis”: “[U]nprecedented perhaps in depth and extent–for it is at the same time scientific, metaphysical, moral, social and political–[the crisis] is not a “dissolution” [for the spirit of faith does not die], nor even an “evolution” [for the spirit of faith does not change], it is a purification of the religious sense, and an integration of Catholic truth.”

    All the leading theologians of the first half of the 20th century confirm this: the Dominicans, Chenu and Cardinal Congar, the Jesuits, Maréchal, Mondésert, Cardinal de Lubac and Cardinal Daniélou, the Oratorians Louis Bouyer and Lucien Laberthonnière. One could add the Swiss Jesuit, Hans Urs von Balthasar and the German, Joseph Ratzinger.

    It was the Council, particularly in Dei Verbum and Lumen Gentium that addressed what Cardinal de Lubac had called “the dualist theory that was destroying Christian thought,” and went far to realising “the integration of Catholic truth.”

  10. “Holding fast that faith which has been believed,” means, in practice, holding fast to one’s own interpretation of it.

    Newman points out the difference, “It is in vain to say that the man who judges from the Apostles’ writings, does submit to those writings in the first instance, and therefore has faith in them; else why should he refer to them at all? There is, I repeat, an essential difference between the act of submitting to a living oracle, and to his written words; in the former case there is no appeal from the speaker, in the latter the final decision remains with the reader…. I can fancy a man magisterially expounding St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians or to the Ephesians, who would be better content with the writer’s absence than his sudden reappearance among us; lest the Apostle should take his own meaning out of his commentator’s hands and explain it for himself. In a word, though he says he has faith in St. Paul’s writings, he confessedly has no faith in St. Paul.”

  11. Speaking of de facto schism, this article in Crisis on the removal of the Bishop of Limburg is really fascinating: http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/the-real-scandal-in-germany

    Nominally he was suspended (pending investigation) for questions about misappropriation of diocesan funds regarding the construction of a new diocesan center. But it is clear that he is hated for his orthodoxy and conservatism, especially his removal of a priest who blessed same-sex “marriages” in a Catholic church. Now they are saying they will not accept him as bishop if he is cleared and allowed to return to Limburg (as it appears he may be). We will see now how autocratic Pope Francis is willing to be.

  12. “All the leading theologians of the first half…”

    These are not names that inspire confidence.

  13. As is the case in many German dioceses, the bishop of Limburg is elected by the Cathedral Chapter; if the canons do not like him, they have only themselves to blame.

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