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April 2005


... In the Round ...

                  "What then is our duty? Not to lament the past nor to
                  dream of the future, but to accept the present. Dreams
                  and lamentations weaken the sinews of action … We must
                  learn the duty and the necessity of seeing things as they
                  are, in their exact and naked truth."
  Cardinal Manning           

The elevation of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to the Chair of St. Peter has come as a relief to most traditionalists and neo-conservatives.

At Christian Order we understand and share that relief in large part.

Our credibility in this matter is second to none. While mainstream UK journals, both so-called 'Catholic' and secular, regularly mocked and railed against then-Cardinal Ratzinger throughout his time as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctine of the Faith [CDF], CO consistently supported and promoted his work. We defended him against the relentless attacks of the dissidents and gave him full credit for his strong support for the Old Mass and his admirable defence of orthodoxy in many areas. Indeed, just last month our feature article was full of praise for his strong leadership and challenged bishops everywhere to support the Cardinal rather than ignore or moan about his stands for the Faith on pivotal issues ("An Open Letter to Catholics").

In particular, CO carried a series of devastating and prophetic reports by the late Michael Davies which documented the Cardinal's magnificent lone defence of the Faith against the treacherous compromises which surfaced in the ecumenical ARCIC discussions with the Anglicans (summarised in Michael's response to Mr Larson, linked below). We are all deeply appreciative of such efforts as head of the CDF, as too with his restatement of Catholic teaching on the one true Church in Dominus Iesus. His recent Good Friday comments highlighting the desperate state of the Church and his superb address before the conclave summarising the ills of a sick world also augur well.

We are, therefore, well aware of the new Pope's many strengths and thank God for giving us one who will surely stand firm against the arsenal of catastrophic ideologies now marshalled against the life of souls and wielded so furiously by the death-dealers, moral degenerates and perfidious "liberal Catholics" in their relentless assaults on Holy Mother Church. May the Lord enlighten, guide and protect His new Vicar on earth in this most onerous of roles.

These strong points notwithstanding, however, human respect must never blind us to that which we consider threatens the integrity of our Holy Faith. In these tumultuous times a superficial, rose-coloured view of those we have come to admire will not do. We have nothing at all to fear from facing facts but, today more than ever, very much to lose if we do not address them.

And so, while we understand the relief and excitement of neo-cons and trads, in order to inject some balance and reality into post-conclave celebrations and assessments of Benedict XVI at the outset of his pontificate - to see him in the round - we are posting for wider readership the following series of compelling and controversial articles by James Larson, published in Christian Order during 2003-04.

After doing the heavy duty reading and research of Cardinal Ratzinger's many works, a task eschewed by most of the Cardinal's fervent supporters, Mr Larson found that some fundamental theological, philosophical and scriptural views espoused by the Cardinal had all the hallmarks of rank Modernism.

In fact, the impossibly fuzzy mixture of orthodox, heterodox and heretical ideas found in some neo-conservative works today clearly owes much to the filtering down of Cardinal Ratzingerís more progressive ideas, promoted through his numerous books, as explained in the Larson series.

In particular, the increasingly popular mantra that "God is relationship" - the subjective core of process theology and Modernist flux - is the very foundation of the Cardinalís Personalist/Phenomenological system of thought in which he posits that "God is entirely relationship" [Larson, Nov. 2003]. Mr Larson points out the corrosive ramifications of this spurious view in precisely the sort of erroneous or confusing scriptural, ecumenical and sacramental notions that Daphne McLeod discovered in her review of Christianity Pure and Simple by Dwight Longenecker.

The marginalisation of St. Thomas Aquinas, and consequent shoring up of ecumenism (which project we can thus expect Pope Benedict to pursue with vigour), appears to underlie this new Personalism. Accordingly, we find a complete lack of Thomistic precision in neo-con apologetics like Christianity Pure and Simple, which work has been received as uncritically as have those troubling aspects of Cardinal Ratzingerís views critiqued in the Larson series. (I suggest that if advocates of Phenomenology and Personalism believe the insights offered by their system will eventually do for Thomism what St. Thomas himself did for Aristotelianism, they should read Christianity Pure and Simple - and think again!)

Now, to put all this in postconciliar perspective.

Apropos of the Vatican, and echoing the famous lamentation of Pope Paul VI, renowned exorcist Father Gabriel Amorth has stated that "The smoke of Satan has entered everywhere. Everywhere!" Modernism – "the synthesis of all heresies" - is surely central to this observation.

Viewed in that light, the Larson revelations are not so surprising. Like many of his peers, Pope Benedict XVI (who was the first non-Thomistic Prefect of the CDF in centuries) is simply a product of his era. Regarded as a Ďreformed liberalí who gradually distanced himself from the excesses of his ultra-liberal brethren, he appears not to have jettisoned all the 'progressive' nostrums he imbibed down the years from the likes of his notorious compatriot at the Council, Karl Rahner (a purveyor of heresies - as documented by Fr. George Duggan SM in CO, Aug/Sept 2001 - who was lauded by the Ratzinger-CDF during last year's Rahnerian 'rehabilitation' excercise in Rome.)

Our new Holy Father is, after all, only human and it is a fact of Catholic history that a few of his predecessors have been notoriously guilty of personal Ďskirmishesí with the heterodox or heretical!

The "grace of state" afforded the Vicar of Christ, however, is always a strong antidote to whatever erroneous views may have been held before elevation and a Divine protection against proclaiming those errors from the Chair of Peter. Thus, while readers may be rightly concerned they need not be unduly disturbed by the Larson critiques, but maintain with full confidence their belief in the unfailing capacity of the successors of Peter to confirm their brethren in the one true Faith - Catholic, Apostolic and Roman. This is certainly Mr Larson's position after reflecting on his series in light of Cardinal Ratzinger's election as Pope. He writes:

I have carefully re-read all my articles on Cardinal Ratzinger. I find nothing that I can, in good conscience, now deny as being my firm conviction. His writings clearly contain what must be considered objective errors or heresies.

Even more certain (with the certainty of faith) is my complete submission of intellect and will to the dogmatic teaching of Vatican Council I (in three very striking passages) that a Pope cannot lose his personal Catholic faith.

Faced with the elevation of Cardinal Ratzinger to the Papacy there is, as of now, no way in which I can reconcile these two convictions and statements. This does not mean that they are not reconcilable, but simply that I do not now have the necessary knowledge to do so. There is, of course, the grace of the office, which has converted at least one Pope (Vigilius), and possibly more (Pius IX), from material heresy to orthodoxy. I have no way of knowing, at this time, whether such a scenario corresponds to the present case. Above all else, I pray that it does.

There is also the very important point that a person who has written or spoken objective error or heresy is not necessarily a heretic. We all tend to make mistakes, and some Popes have made mistakes in their exercise of the non-infallible teaching office (John XXII is a very interesting example). This does not constitute legitimate grounds for calling such persons "heretics" or claiming that they have lost their faith.

In my response to the late Michael Davies, who grossly misrepresented my position by accusing me of calling Cardinal Ratzinger a heretic, I replied: "I have, on the contrary, been quite careful not to call the Cardinal a heretic. The formal designation of someone as a heretic certainly does require his or her pertinacious resistance to Church authority. Such restrictions, however, do not at all apply to designating certain writings or words as being heretical in content, or of designating such writings or oral formulations as someoneís heresy."

In other words a person can still possess the faith, but be materially quite wrong in some of the particular articles of that faith. I do not know if such a distinction could be applied to Cardinal Ratzinger. And I certainly have no knowledge concerning its applicability to Pope Benedict XVI.

What is possibly more likely is a combination of the above two scenarios. By the grace of his office Pope Vigilius certainly withdrew from his former heresies, but it is also true that he still retained some of his former weaknesses and inclinations. What is to be most feared, therefore, is that Pope Benedict XVI, not thoroughly imbued with the spirit of Thomistic ontology, and still deeply imbued with the ecumenical spirit which is a result of this weakness, will pursue this same spirit of ecumenism which has been a primary source of alienation for traditionalists. And then considering themselves to have been profoundly betrayed in the hopes they have placed in this new Papacy, there may well be a mass exodus of traditionalists into various forms of schism and sedevacantism. In anticipation of such a possibility, I wish in advance to emphatically condemn any use of my writings to support even the slightest movement in this direction.

I also cannot absolutely dismiss the possibility that I am wrong in my analysis of Cardinal Ratzingerís writings. As of right now, however, I certainly cannot, in my own conscience and knowledge, retract the conclusions I have reached in my articles. However, if the Pope ordered me to retract these writings from circulation, I would immediately comply.

Meanwhile, I wait and pray. And for the record, to allay any further misrepresentation of my writings following the Cardinalís elevation, the definitive statement of my position is this: Pope Benedict XVI has not lost his faith and is not a heretic, and cannot be a heretic.

James Larson

Certainly, the charges made and questions raised by Mr Larson are now even more pressing in light of Cardinal Ratzinger's elevation. The secular press have already picked up on our new pontiff's curious 'line of thought', as revealed in this comment by Daniel Henninger, deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page:

[In his memoirs "Milestones"] Joseph Ratzinger describes how he prefers Augustine to Thomas Aquinas, "whose crystal-clear logic seemed to me to be too closed in on itself, too impersonal and ready-made." Anyone familiar with Augustine and Aquinas would at least pause to reflect on this remark.... Augustine is the more mystical personality, closer in some ways to the "new age" impulses of our times. In the writings of Augustine, arguably the most complex mind Christianity has produced, the exercise of deep faith carries with it the possibility of what I would call a "high" experience in one's pursuit of and relationship to God... I get the impression that Joseph Ratzinger ... is at heart more a vibrant 5th-century Christian than a stale 19th-century dogmatist; as conceivably was John Paul II, who often let himself slip into an Upward-directed reverie in public. In short, Benedict XVI looks to be very different from the stolid, authoritarian German described this week in the public prints.

Mr Larson would doubtless see this aversion to St. Thomas and intimacy with Augustinian-type "mysticism" as central to the Cardinal's controversial rehabilitation of Rosmini, who was also known as a "mystic".

As Mr Larson indicates and as stated in our May 2004 edition, however, we are not suggesting that his articles are the last word on this matter. Obviously not! They were simply considered too important not to print. The lamentable 'Ratzinger-effect' revealed in Mrs McLeod's later review of Christianity Pure and Simple only served to underline their import. Further considered and rational comment (not mere eulogies of the Pope's aforementioned virtues) may be communicated to Mr Larson directly - 26283 202nd St., Long Prairie, MN 56347, USA - and/or the Editor. But it is mainly hoped that this controversy will finally be taken up and addressed, without fear or favour, in specialist theological and philosophical journals, where it rightly belongs.

The Editor

The Heart of Betrayal - November 2003
The War Against Being Part III - October 2003
Rosmini's Rehabilitation and the Ratzinger Agenda: When To Be is Not To Be - February 2004
The Point of Departure - March 2004
* * * * *
Apologia Pro Josef Ratzinger - Michael Davies (defence of the Cardinal against James Larson) June/July 2004
To Belie the Obvious Truth - James Larson (response to Michael Davies) June/July 2004
* * * * *
Michael Davies: The Last Interview - John Bishop (includes discussion of the above Davies/Larson exchange)