The Suffering Continues
In a speech to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI offered a very revealing and succinct analysis of his own agenda in regard to the "reform" of Vatican Council II. This speech bears immense importance, not only for our understanding of what has happened to the Church since the Council, but also as a "prognosis" for the future course of this reform.
The core of the Pope’s understanding of Vatican II, and also the key to his own agenda for its "legitimate" implementation, is to be found in the following statement:
"The steps taken by the Council towards the modern era which had rather vaguely been presented as ‘openness to the world’ [aggiornamento], belong in short to the perennial problem of the relationship between faith and reason that is re-emerging in ever new forms."
In other words, all those things emanating from Rome since Vatican II which have so deeply disturbed traditional Catholics, and which seem to contradict the teachings of past Popes, are, according to Benedict XVI, rooted in the "perennial problem" of some sort of changing and evolving "relationship between faith and reason."
If this be true, then a question should immediately occur to us. If there exists such a "perennial problem" in the relationship between faith and reason, then how does this affect doctrine itself? As we shall see in the subsequent analysis, the Pope does not shy away from this question.
According to our Holy Father, "the Council had to find a new definition of the relationship between the Church and the modern age." What is most revealing is that Benedict considers that the key to redefining this new relationship lies in our being able to express Catholic doctrine in "new ways." He says:
"Here I shall cite only John XXIII’s well-known words, which unequivocally express this hermeneutic when he says that the Council wishes ‘to transmit the doctrine pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion’. And he continues: ‘Our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our age demands of us…’ It is necessary that ‘adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness…’ be presented in ‘faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another…’, ‘retaining the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another…’, retaining the same meaning and message (The Documents of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, S.J., p. 715).
And Pope Benedict adds:
"It is clear that this commitment to expressing a specific truth in a new way demands new thinking upon it and a new relationship with it." [All emphases mine unless otherwise indicated].
At this point the reader might try to imagine what it means to have "new thinking" and a "new relationship" with defined doctrine. Vatican Council I had some very powerful things to say about any such "new relationships" with doctrine:
"For the doctrine of faith which God has revealed has not been proposed like a philosophical invention, to be perfected by human ingenuity; but has been delivered as a divine deposit to the Spouse of Christ, to be faithfully kept and infallibly declared. Hence, also, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is perpetually to be retained which our holy Mother the Church has once declared; nor is that meaning ever to be departed from, under the pretence or pretext of a deeper comprehension of them."
The Council in fact pronounces a solemn anathema against anyone who would attempt to change the sense of such doctrine:
Canon III (from the chapter on Faith and Reason): "If anyone shall assert it to be possible that sometimes, according to the progress of science, a sense is to be given to doctrine propounded by the Church different from that which the Church has understood and understands; let him be anathema."
What then can possibly be meant by Pope Benedict’s proposal for a "new relationship" with doctrine?
Some, in defense of the Pope’s statements, might argue that when speaking of this new relationship with defined truth the Pope only intends us to understand a new penetration into the depths of the wisdom contained in these truths, and a consequent deeper commitment to living them.
I can only reply at this point that such a "penetration" and "deepening" of our faith would not at all necessitate Pope Benedict postulating "ever new forms" of "the perennial problem of the relationship between faith and reason" as the root reason for such new relationships with doctrine.
There certainly can be a change in the relationship which individual human reason possesses in regard to truth. Simply stated, an individual may come to know and accept a truth of faith which he did not know previously. Or he may come to a deeper understanding of this truth, and a more profound commitment to living out its implications. But the change is all on the side of human reason. There is no change, and never can be, between faith and reason when viewed from the perspective of the deposit of faith itself.
As I argue in the following analysis, Pope Benedict XVI indeed appears to be proposing a "new relationship" with defined doctrine which necessitates the changing of the sense of doctrine itself.
Specifics of the "New Relationship"
Pope Benedict espouses that this "new relationship with truth," and also with the world, is dependent upon redefining our relationships with the world in three fundamental "circles":
1. In the words of the Pope: "First of all, the relationship between faith and modern science had to be redefined."
I have purposely emphasized the words "first of all" in this passage. It confirms the thesis, proposed in my articles concerning The War Against Being, that the primary source of error and confusion in the Church today is the capitulation of its members to the worldview promoted by reductive analytical science.
This surrender necessitates the rejection of Thomistic cosmology and metaphysics, and has the effect of placing faith in a state of perpetual prostitution to secular science. In other words, it places the faith in an "ever changing relationship to science" which demands that faith be always ready to change in respect of new scientific discovery.
This fundamental posture of Modernistic thinking is profoundly analyzed and condemned by Pope Pius X in his encyclical Pascendi:
"It would be a great mistake, nevertheless, to suppose that, according to these theories, one is allowed to believe that faith and science are entirely independent of each other. On the side of science that is indeed quite true and correct, but it is quite otherwise with regard to faith, which is subject to science, not on one but on three grounds. For in the first place it must be observed that in every religious fact, when one takes away the divine reality [which, for the Modernist, is equivalent to the interior, subjective religious sense] and the experience of it which the believer possesses, everything else, and especially the religious formulas [defined doctrines], belongs to the sphere of phenomena and therefore falls under the control of science. Let the believer go out of the world if he will, but so long as he remains in it, whether he like it or not, he cannot escape from the laws, the observation, the judgments of science or of history. Further, although it is contended that God is the object of faith alone, the statement refers only to the divine reality [again, this refers to subjective "sense" or experience of the divine], not to the idea of God. The latter also is subject to science which, while it philosophizes in what is called the logical order, soars also to the absolute and the ideal. It is therefore the right of philosophy and of science to form its knowledge concerning the idea of God, to direct it in its evolution and to purify it of any extraneous elements which may have entered into it. Hence we have the Modernist axiom that the religious evolution ought to be brought into accord with the moral and intellectual, or as one whom they regard as their leader has expressed it, ought to be subject to it. Finally, man does not suffer a dualism to exist in himself, and the believer therefore feels within him an impelling need so to harmonize faith with science that it may never oppose the general conception which science sets forth concerning the universe." [All italics are part of the text]
The fundamental question which we must ask in the face of the Pope’s statement given above is this: How is it possible to "redefine the relationship between faith and modern science?"
When we consider faith as the human act of ascent of mind and will to defined doctrine, we are speaking of the submission of the mind to God’s Revelation. Reason, philosophy, and science are the handmaids of this Revelation. The proper relationship between faith and science, or faith and reason, is dogmatically taught by Vatican I;
"Man being wholly dependent upon God, as upon his Creator and Lord, and created reason being absolutely subject to uncreated truth, we are bound to yield to God, by faith in His revelation, the full obedience of our intelligence and will."
There can, in other words, be no redefinition of this relationship between faith and science without destroying the whole Divinely established order of truth.
It was a central contention of my articles in Christian Order that it is the Catholic dogma of Transubstantiation which is the most fundamental sign of contradiction in this "relationship" between faith and science, because it is the one place in Catholic doctrine where the Thomistic understanding of substance (and its real distinction from accidental being) is enshrined as absolutely integral to the orthodox sense of defined Catholic dogma.
As analyzed in my article The Rosmini Rehabilitation, Cardinal Ratzinger clearly rejected Thomistic cosmology and metaphysics as an explanation for Transubstantiation. And in his book God and the World (A Conversation with Peter Seewald), he redefined the word transubstantiation in such a way as to negate the reality of the change of the physical nature of bread. Thus we have his "new relationship" with the doctrine of Transubstantiation, a relationship which, in my view, denies its traditional sense, and subjects it to a sense which can be harmonized with reductive physical science.
The reader may also remember Cardinal Ratzinger’s "reworking" of the doctrines of Original Sin and Baptism, as examined in my article The Point of Departure.
In his book In the Beginning…A Catholic Understanding of Creation and the Fall, the Cardinal stated that Original Sin was a "certainly misleading and imprecise term", and proceeded to redefine it as something which we contract through relationships after conception, rather than a condition which we inherit at conception through generation from Adam.
We should realize that this surrender to modern secular science need not limit itself to the rejection of Thomistic understanding of physical substance. We have long witnessed, for instance, the capitulation of most Catholics to Darwinian evolutionary theory. We must further understand, however, that any doctrine dealing in some way with "phenomena" is also theoretically subject to change in this ongoing evolutionary relationship between faith and science.
Certainly, the Virgin Birth deals in a most profound way with "phenomena", and could be subject to such a change in sense. And even such doctrines as the Hypostatic Union or the Trinity could fall under re-evaluation. After all, could it not be seen as very unscientific to postulate two natures in one person, or three distinct persons possessing the same identical nature?
All this may now seem far-fetched. But if Cardinal Ratzinger could "re-work" the doctrines of Transubstantiation and Original Sin as I have argued, then what is to save these other mysteries of our Faith from similar re-definition according to the criteria of being subject to "ever new forms" of redefining the "relationship between faith and modern science?"
Nor does this necessity "to redefine the relationship between faith and modern science" apply only to the natural sciences. According to the Pope, it also extends to the interpretation of Holy Scripture in its relationship to the science of the historical-critical method of Biblical hermeneutics.
2. The Pope’s second area for redefining of relationships is given as follows:
"Secondly, it was necessary to give a new definition to the relationship between the Church and the modern state that would make room impartially for citizens of various religions and ideologies, merely assuming responsibility for an orderly and tolerant coexistence among them and for the freedom to practice their own religion."
This subject has also been treated in my series on The War Against Being. Suffice to say here that Cardinal Ratzinger, in his writings, considers Gaudium et Spes to be a countersyllabus which calls for a "new relationship" with the Liberalism and Modernism condemned by such Popes as Pius IX, Leo XIII, and Pius X.
One other point deserves mentioning concerning this subject. The critical commentaries which I have read concerning the Pope’s speech to the Curia have dealt almost exclusively with this issue of religious liberty. As the reader may discern, I believe that the area examined in #1 above is far more important, because it deals with the very nature of defined truth and Divine Revelation, and therefore penetrates to the consistency and integrity of the Magisterium itself.
3. Finally, in Benedict’s discussion of "new relationships:"
"Thirdly, linked more generally to this was the problem of religious tolerance – a question that required a new definition of the relationship between Christian faith and the world religions. In particular, before the recent crimes of the Nazi regime and, in general, with a retrospective look at a long and difficult history, it was necessary to evaluate and define in a new way the relationship between the Church and the faith of Israel."
I’m sure the informed CO reader will recognize the consequences which the above statement carries in regard to false ecumenism and indifferentism, and its extraordinary opposition to the traditional Catholic teaching especially as it is found in Pius XI’s encyclical Mortalium Animos.
In addition, the Pope’s contention that it was necessary to "define in a new way" the relationship between the Church and the faith of Israel would indeed appear to directly contradict Catholic teaching that Israel is in spiritual bondage until it accepts the one true faith of Christ and His Church.
A Single Problem
Extremely revealing in the Pope’s speech is his statement that all these sectors of "new relationships" constitute "a single problem." The "single problem" common to all these sectors is, of course, the problem of how to redefine all these particular areas of traditional doctrine in order to make possible an "openness" and "new relationship" with the world.
I believe that we make a mistake if we simply label all of this as "extreme" Modernism, and assume that what is aimed at is the blatant and immediate dismantling of all Catholic doctrine. The Pope sincerely does want to save what he can, and what he considers "essential." What is being proposed by Benedict is something much more subtle than radical Modernism. Those who have read my article Point of Departure may remember Cardinal Ratzinger’s proposals for "essentializing" the Faith. This program is further elaborated in the following passage from the Pope’s speech:
"It is clear that in all these sectors, which all together form a single problem, some kind of discontinuity [with previous Church doctrine] might emerge. Indeed, a discontinuity had been revealed but in which, after the various distinctions between concrete historical situations and their requirements had been made, the continuity of principles proved not to have been abandoned. It is easy to miss this fact at a first glance.
"It is precisely in this combination of continuity and discontinuity at different levels that the very nature of true reform consists. In this process of innovation in continuity we must learn to understand more practically than before that the Church’s decisions on contingent matters – for example, certain practical forms of liberalism or a free interpretation of the Bible – should necessarily be contingent themselves [the reader might try to imagine informing Pius IX or Pius X that their condemnations of Liberalism and Modernism were "contingent" and no longer applicable], precisely because they refer to a specific reality that is changeable in itself. It was necessary to learn that in these decisions it is only the principles that express the permanent aspect, since they remain as an undercurrent, motivating decisions from within.
"On the other hand, not so permanent are the practical forms that depend on the historical situation and are therefore subject to change."
I believe that the entire passage quoted above should be broadcast in bold print. This appears to be the dominant agenda, or possibly we should say modus operandi, for effecting a new doctrinal "relationship" with the modern world. As stated by the Pope, it is this distinction between "principle" and "contingency" (or between "form" and "content" in the realm of scriptural hermeneutics) which then becomes the primary vehicle for "redefining our relationship" to defined doctrine.
It enabled Cardinal Ratzinger to come to a new relationship with the doctrine of Transubstantiation, a relationship which retained the "principle" of the Real Presence, while rejecting the "contingent" Thomistic and Tridentine explanation of this doctrine.
It facilitated a new understanding of the "principle" of Original Sin, while discarding the "contingent" notion of it being contracted through generation. This, in turn, allegedly allows us to come to a new relationship with the Sacrament of Baptism, a relationship which retains the "essential" concept of incorporation in Christ, while devaluing the "contingent" idea of sanctifying grace, and the necessity of its possession for salvation (see my article Point of Departure).
As we have noted, this category of "contingent teaching" has also been directed by the Pope with special vehemence against the voluminous battery of anti-Liberal and anti-Modernist condemnations promulgated by previous Popes. The result of this is that the whole concept of the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ has been, for all practical purposes, eradicated from Catholic consciousness. And despite this obvious reversal of the teachings of such Popes as Pius IX, Leo XIII and Pius X, we are supposed to be able to make the "essential" (but, practically speaking, non-substantive) affirmation that Christ is King. In other words, we are not here dealing with "essentialization", but with capitulation and duplicity, and all this in the name of an aggiornamento to the world.
Catholic Bastions Demolished
This communio with the world which is at the heart of the New Theology, and which is supposed to be at the heart of this new "incarnation" of Christ’s love, necessitates the destruction of the Church’s traditional bastions against Liberalism, Modernism, and Indifferentism. As Joseph Ratzinger wrote in his book Principles of Catholic Theology:
"The task is not,
therefore, to suppress the Council
"The Church cannot choose the times in which she will live…. She must relinquish many of the things that have hitherto spelled security for her and that she has taken for granted. She must demolish longstanding bastions and trust solely to the shield of faith."
This demolition has been largely accomplished. Von Balthasar and de Lubac may be seen as the primary architects most responsible for the philosophy and theology behind this agenda. Among the living, however, no man has been more influential in its coming to fruition than Joseph Ratzinger.
The darkness deepens. During the Papacy of John Paul II we witnessed an extraordinary amount of hetero-praxis and a good deal of fuzziness in thinking. With the Papacy of Benedict XVI, however, we are faced with what appears to be a direct assault upon essential elements of Magisterial teaching. Pope Benedict claims to be able to establish continuity with traditional doctrines while denying part of the very substance of these doctrines. In this effort there is, in fact, the most profound discontinuity, a discontinuity that seems to attack the non-contradictory nature of Truth itself.
The romance between traditional Catholics and Pope Benedict XVI should now be over. This love-affair with his fledgling Papacy has largely been fuelled by an expectation of expanded privileges for the offering of the traditional Latin Mass. It would be an immense tragedy and irony if traditional Catholics, in hope of these "indults", would be persuaded to look the other way while the very foundations of Catholic truth are being compromised. Our salvation is dependent upon our possessing the Faith. It is not dependent upon our having the Latin Mass.
The romance should end, but the love must increase. For whatever reason, in the mysterious and chastising love of God, we still have a suffering Church, and a suffering Pope. Suffering - in the deepest sense - from within. If the malady is not recognized, the cure will not be effected. The cure cannot be applied, however, except from within. I wish again, therefore, to condemn any use of what I have written to justify schism or sedevacantism. A love that does not come from within is a love defiled, and deformed.
While the Larson thesis stands or falls on the basis of the arguments presented, it is worth noting that the key papal address treated in his critique was not only accepted without demur by neo-conservatives, it also received a thumbs up from dissidents. This suggests that papolatrous acquiesence has again dulled critical neo-con faculties.
In any event, the Pope’s liberal pedigree and ‘bastion demolishing’ calls are simpy facts we dare not ignore. Another warning signal, for instance, on top of those already flagged by Mr Larson, was Cardinal Ratzinger’s Rahnerian "redefinition" of the Immaculate Heart that accompanied the release of the Third Secret of Fatima, according to which any heart that says "yes" to God is now considered "immaculate" [see CO, Oct. 2005, pp 43-46]. Such disturbing ideas recall to mind the cautionary words of Melchior Cano, the Dominican theologian to the Fathers of the Council of Trent: "Peter has no need of our lies or flattery. Those who blindly and indiscriminately defend every decision of the supreme Pontiff are the very ones who do most to undermine the authority of the Holy See - they destroy instead of strengthening its foundations."
Meanwhile, in the April 2006 issue of leading U.S. neo-con journal First Things, it’s influential editor Father John Neuhaus says that a new 500-page book by Alyssa Helene Pitstick is to be published by Eerdmans, entitled Lux in Tenebris: the Traditional Catholic Doctrine of Christ’s Descent into Hell and the Theological Opinion of Hans Urs von Balthasar.
The book is her dissertation written at the Angelicum in Rome. Just as Anne Gardiner and James Larson have argued in Christian Order, she questions Balthasar’s orthodoxy, in particular his seriously defective teaching that Christ suffered among the damned on Holy Saturday.
A von Balthasar fan like John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Father Neuhaus says that Pitstick has persuaded him that "on the descent into hell" Balthasar is not in sync with the "received structure of faith." And he adds: "it is an audacious thing for a doctoral student to take on a thinker of the stature of Balthasar, but Alyssa Pitstick has thrown down the gauntlet that other theologians should not ignore."
Neuhaus says he still admires Balthasar, but concedes that "like the third-century Origen, to whom Balthasar was deeply devoted, Balthasar may end up with a somewhat ambiguous reputation in the history of Christian thought. There is no doubt he is a giant, albeit a flawed giant. Thanks to Alyssa Helene Pitstick, a new and lively debate over his achievement is almost certainly underway. It is hoped that her thesis, revised in book form, will be out from Eerdmans later this year."
Fr. Neuhaus is to be congratulated for his refreshing attitude. For in lionising von Balthasar, most of his adherents have invested far too much - intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and financially - even to acknowledge his critics, let alone deign to engage them.
God willing, the Pitstick critique will kick-start the process of unravelling the "New Theology" that gave rise to Vatican II and which sustains its corrosive spirit. At the same time and to this end, any major debunking of von Balthasar must necessarily involve similar tomes exposing his fraudulent source and inspiration, the self-styled ‘mystic’ Adrienne von Speyr (see CO, June/July 2004).