Rebuttal to Schismatic Traditionalists (5)

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Continued from “Rebuttal to Schismatic Traditionalists (4)”



“If they [the faithful] were to go [to ecumenical gatherings], they would be attributing authority to an erroneous form of the Christian religion, entirely alien to the one Church of Christ.” … “It is therefore inconsistent and foolish to say that the Mystical Body could be formed of disjointed and separated parts; therefore whoever is not joined to it is not a member of it and is not in union with Christ the Head.”  “No one is in the Church of Christ, and no one remains in it, unless he acknowledges and accepts with obedience the authority and power of Peter and his legitimate successors”.  “They (heretics) add that the Church, in herself, and by her nature, is divided into parts, that is to say, made up of many churches or individual communities, which although separate, hold some points of doctrine in common although they differ on the rest; each Church, according to them, has the same rights.”[1]


“Therefore they are straying from divine truth who imagine the Church to be something which can neither be touched nor seen, that it is something merely “spiritual,” as they say, in which many Christian communities, although separated from one another by faith, could be joined by some kind of invisible link.”[2]


MY COMMENTS: Cannot one go to an ecumenical gathering with the motive to love his brother?  Can one not pray together with non-Catholics[3] for peace in the world, for unity (Jn 17:20; see UR 7) and for so many other common needs of today as Pope John Paul II did at Assisi in 1986 and 2002?  The Church states clearly that only “in certain circumstances” can Catholic and non-Catholics prayer together (UR 7). One is not a "bad Catholic" for expressing serious reservations over the meetings in Assisi for instance. However, traditionalists would have the Church throw the baby, the council’s true and authoritative teaching, out with the bath water, the abuses not sanctioned by the Church. This is simply not a legitimate option.


Ecumenism has many kernels in Catholic Tradition, most notably with the acceptance by St. Augustine and the Church, of Donatist baptism. The Donatists were formal schismatics, yet the Church accepted the validity of their baptism (just as with Protestants today).  The devil is strong today; we must unite in all that we have in common and in all that we can share and do together to overcome the onslaughts of the devil today!


The confusion the schismatic traditionalists express over and over again about ecumenism is itself perplexing. Is it so difficult to understand that the "ecumenical movement" is that movement meant to bring about Christian unity? When the authors write that "it is impossible to determine precisely what is meant by spiritual ecumenism," one wonders if they have read UR 8: "This change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and merits the name, “spiritual ecumenism”. It is a recognized custom for Catholics to meet for frequent recourse to that prayer for the unity of the Church with which the Savior himself on the eve of his death so fervently appealed to his Father: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:20).”  Spiritual ecumenism is public and private prayer for the unity of Christians. Is this so difficult to understand?


The use of the term "dialogue" is one such difference between the preconciliar and postconciliar Church’s approach.  The initiatives and activities planned and undertaken to promote Christian unity are: “first, every effort to avoid expressions, judgments, and actions which do not represent the condition of our separated brethren with truth and fairness and so make mutual relations with them more difficult; then, "dialogue" between competent experts from different Churches and Communities. At these meetings, which are organized in a religious spirit, each explains the teaching of his Communion in greater depth and brings out clearly its distinctive features. In such dialogue, everyone gains a truer knowledge and more just appreciation of the teaching and religious life of both Communions” (UR 4).  Dialogue exists and is necessary for the sake of clarity and truthfulness.


* * * * * * *


 “But he who in his manner of thinking and acting would separate himself from his shepherd and from his Sovereign Pastor, the Roman Pontiff, has no further bond with Christ: “He that hears you, hears me, he that despises you, despises me” (Luke 10:16). Whoever is estranged from Christ does not reap; he scatters.”[4]


“He who leaves the [Roman] See cannot hope to remain within the Church; he who eats of the lamb outside of it has no part with God.”[5]


“He who abandons the Chair of Peter on which the Church is founded, is falsely persuaded that he is in the Church, since he is already a sinner and a schismatic who raises up a chair against the one Chair of Peter, from which flow to all others the sacred rights of communion.”[6]


“But this Catholic dogma is equally well known: that none can be saved outside the Catholic Church and that those who knowingly rebel against the teaching and authority of the Church cannot obtain eternal salvation, nor can those who willingly separate themselves from union with the Church and with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter, to whom the Savior has entrusted the safe-keeping of his vineyard.”[7]


MY COMMENTS: It is interesting that the schismatic traditionalists want to condemn an Ecumenical Council approved by the Pope, which constitutes the highest level of certainty, because the Council recognizes particular Churches which do not acknowledge the primacy of the Pope, and yet the schismatic traditionalists do not acknowledge the primacy of the living Popes since Pope Pius XII?!?  Protestants today were born in protestant families; they never had the experience first hand of the Catholic Church.  Are they to blame if they do not know that the Catholic Church is the One True Church founded by Christ?  On the other hand, most of the schismatic traditionalists were born, baptized and raised in the Catholic Church!


In the statement from Pius XII’s 1949 Vatican Curia — assessed by Ottaviani — to the superior of Fr. Leonard Feeney: "That is why no one will be saved if, knowing that the Church is of divine institution by Christ, he nevertheless refuses to submit to her or separates himself from the obedience of the Roman Pontiff, Christ’s Vicar on earth." This is precisely what Vatican II (LG 14) and John Paul II (see below) have stated. At the same time the Holy Office of Pius XII admits the following, "The same must be said of the Church, as a general means of salvation. That is why for a person to obtain his salvation, it is not always required that he be de facto incorporated into the Church as a member but he must at least be united to the Church through desire or hope." Furthermore, "it is not always necessary that this hope be explicit as in the case of catechumens. When one is in a state of invincible ignorance, God accepts an implicit desire, thus called because it is implicit in the soul’s good disposition, whereby it desires to conform its will to the will of God". The Holy Office then quotes Pius’ “Mystici corporis Christi” paragraph 103 where the Pope writes, "For even though by an unconscious desire and longing they have a certain relationship with the Mystical Body of the Redeemer, they still remain deprived of those many heavenly gifts and helps which can only be enjoyed in the Catholic Church." Here the Pontiff admits that there is a "certain relationship with the Mystical Body of the Redeemer" that exists for those righteous persons "in a state of invincible ignorance."


* * * * * * *


“With God’s help, your clergy will never have any more pressing anxiety than to preach the true Catholic faith: he who does not keep it whole and without error, will indubitably be lost.  They will endeavor, therefore, to favor union with the Catholic Church; for he who is separated from it will not have life.”[8]


Outside of the Catholic Church, “except with the excuse of invincible ignorance, there is no hope of life or of salvation.”[9]


MY COMMENTS: At the individual level (non ecclesial level), there is no obvious discrepancy between the schismatic traditionalists and VCII (see: LG 14, DH 1,3 etc.).  It is obvious that there are many good people outside the Catholic Church just as there are those who are not invincibly ignorant of being separated from the one true Church of Christ, the Catholic Church (LG 14); only God knows the heart of each person.


This underpinning, this basic approach, this Tradition is expressed well by Pope John Paul II when he stated in a general audience on May 31, 1995: “Since Christ brings about salvation through his Mystical Body, which is the Church, the way of salvation is connected essentially with the Church. The axiom extra Ecclesiam nulla salus — "outside the Church there is no salvation" — stated by St. Cyprian (Epist. 73 21, PL 1123 AB), belongs to the Christian tradition and was included in the Fourth Lateran Council (DS 802), in the Bull Unam sanctam of Boniface VIII (DS 870) and in the Council of Florence (Decretum pro Jacobitis, DS 1351). The axiom means that for those who are not ignorant of the fact that the Church has been established as necessary by God through Jesus Christ, there is an obligation to enter the Church and remain in her in order to attain salvation (cf. Lumen gentium, n. 14).”  This is the age-old teaching of the Church, a teaching that all the Popes have always accepted and preached.


Regarding how ecumenism is different from the traditional position of having dissidents return to the one true Church, it must be said that there is a striking difference, a marked change in policy but not doctrine. Previous to Vatican II the goal of Christian unity in the West was one where all the separated brethren would simply abandon their Protestant churches, for instance, and return to the Roman Catholic Church. The wayward sheep would abandon every aspect of their Protestant communion — which was overtly anti-Catholic — and adopt every aspect of Roman Catholic life, meaning that they would adopt not just the tradition-doctrines but also the tradition-customs of the Church. This image of Christian unity changed, and a distinction has been made. It is the distinction between the work of ecumenism — reconciliation in doctrine — and the work of assimilation — reconciliation in customs and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church.

The fact is that there exist some 23 different juridically autonomous Churches within the Catholic Church, the largest of which is the Roman Catholic Church, or the Latin Church. The other 22 Churches maintain their own rites, ecclesiastical discipline (i.e., canon law and hierarchy), and spiritual heritage while at the same time being in communion with the Bishop of Rome by recognizing his primacy.


The change that occurred at Vatican II was the possibility that Protestant churches could, once they had accepted the doctrines of the Catholic faith and pledged submission to the Successor of Peter, exist as their own semi-autonomous Church drawing upon their own customs and spiritual heritage. This is what is meant by a "unity in diversity" approach. The diversity that is expressed is not that of faith. UR and the post VCII Popes have been clear that the doctrines of the faith, the truths of Revelation cannot be sacrificed. But there can be diversity in practice, in the explanation of a truth and in prudential determinations of ecclesiastical policy. This is nothing new either, for the Catholic Church has existed for centuries with these semi-autonomous Churches, Churches that believe what we believe, but practice differently.


Pius XII in Humani generis paragraph 27 where he states, "Some say they are not bound by the doctrine, explained in Our Encyclical Letter of a few years ago, and based on the Sources of Revelation, which teach that the Mystical Body of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church are one and the same thing." Pius XII did not utter an error, of course, but there is more that can be said. One can state, "Two plus two is four," but this truth does not make "One plus three is four" any less true. The Roman Catholic Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, but this does not make the Coptic Catholic Church any less part of this same Mystical Body.


Thus there are persons who have been baptized, profess the true faith, are not separated from the Body, and are yet not members of the Roman Catholic Church. By "Roman Catholic Church" one is to understand that specific ecclesiastical structure which uses the Latin Rite, the Latin Code of Canon Law, and has the Bishop of Rome as its patriarch. This particular Church has the "character of a true and proper subject" unlike any other of the legitimate Catholic Churches. And the word "is" was changed to "subsist" in order to make clearer this unique character of the Roman Church within the Mystical Body of Christ. The word "subsist" restates the "is" and distinguishes the particular kind of being that the Roman Catholic Church embodies.


The purpose of my comments has not been an attempt to justify the wild and obscene efforts on the part of some clergy and lay people in the name of ecumenism. This is a separate issue. Though some claim it is an issue inherently related to UR, condemning the document because of the abuses is in no way an attempt to confront and deal with the veracity of the document itself.


The schismatic traditionalists claim that "ambiguity" is a symptom of a specific disease in Vatican II. However, they would do well to remember that Fr. Leonard Feeney also took advantage of ambiguities in ecclesiastical documents and many heretics have taken advantage of ambiguities in Scripture to justify what they desired. By the logic of the schismatic traditionalists we would have to throw out Sacred Scripture, because it offers too many loopholes. Questions in interpretation can always be solved by the same Magisterium which drafted the document in the first place.


Is ecumenism, as Vatican II defined it, a novelty? The answer to the question is no, it is not a novelty. Understanding that a novelty is something that jeopardizes the doctrinal integrity of the Church and having seen that UR clearly states that the doctrines of the Church must all be kept and faithfully communicated, we have to conclude that ecumenism as expressed by the Vatican Council is no novelty. The terminology may be new, the policy of "unity in diversity" may be new, the permission granted to common prayer might be new, but it is not new and doctrinally false. No Catholic doctrine is denied or even jeopardized when Vatican II states that the movement for Christian unity is a movement fostered by the Holy Spirit. No Catholic doctrine is denied or jeopardized when it is stated that every Catholic Christian is called to take part — through prayer or action — in the effort to bring about the unity of Christian persons.


The schismatic traditionalists are right in understanding that ecumenism is not a dogma of the Church. However, there is a very real and doctrinally weighty reality which the term points to, and points to definitively. This the schismatic traditionalists have completely ignored. The desire for the unity of persons, a unity that even Pius XII admitted did not exist at his time, is one planted and cultivated by the Holy Spirit. This is the teaching of Pius XII, Vatican II, and all the Popes after VCII and this is a doctrinally binding teaching of the Church regarding faith and morals. This is no dogma, true, but we certainly are required to offer an obsequium, a submission, to the following doctrine: the ecumenical movement — understood as the desire and work to bring about Christian unity under the headship of the Vicar of Christ and without sacrificing doctrine — is initiated and fostered by the Holy Spirit.



Continued in “Rebuttal to Schismatic Traditionalists (6)”


[1] Pius XI, Encyclical ‘Mortalium Animos’, January 6, 1928.

[2] Pius XII, Encyclical ‘Mystici Corporis’, June 29, 1943.

[3] See also UR 8 and question 4 in “Ecclesiology of the Catholic Church”.

[4] Leo XIII, Letter ‘Officio sanctissimo’, December 22, 1887, to the Bishops of Bavaria.

[5] Pius IX, Encyclical ‘Amantissimus’, April 18, 1862.

[6] Pius IX, Encyclical ‘Quartus supra’, January 6, 1873, to the Armenians.

[7] Pius IX, Letter ‘Quanto conficiamur moerore’, August 10, 1863.

[8] Gregory XVI, Letter ‘Perlatum ad nos’, July 17, 1841, to the Archbishop pfLwow.

[9] Pius IX, Letter ‘Singulari quidem’, March 17, 1856, to the Austrian Episcopate.

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