Editor’s note: this post is part 1 of a dialogue with Catholic author and blogger Dave Armstrong concerning the crisis in the Church following the Second Vatican Council. Our hope is to pursue charity and truth on these difficult issues, without avoiding the necessary debate among brothers. Dave Armstrong is one of the few Catholic voices who critique the traditionalist view point in print (the other being, to my knowledge, the Likoudis book The Pope, The Mass, and the Council). The mission of Meaning of Catholic is to unite Catholics against the enemies of Holy Church. This includes forming alliances with every Catholic who sincerely adheres to the faith, even when, in times of crisis, we come to different conclusions in certain areas. As I have written elsewhere, even the saints disagreed during times like these. Therefore we pursue this dialogue with Mr. Armstrong in an attempt to fulfill that mission. May this be for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls. –T. S. Flanders
See Mr. Armstrong’s Introduction here.
I was pleased to read your post entitled “Definitions: Radical Catholic Reactionaries vs. Mainstream “Traditionalists”, and especially pleased that you used the word “transmogrified” ;). As we discussed privately, you and I both agree on the Meaning of Catholic confession of faith, except in regards to my post about submitting to Pope Francis with caution. I’m sure we will get into that topic eventually. I’m going to write these responses to you as a letter which appears to me to be the easiest way to progress toward a productive dialogue between us. As I also said, my wife is about to give birth so I make no promises in regards to my own frequency of posting.
As regards dialogue, I normally proceed by asking a lot of questions in order to understand what my interlocutor is saying. Instead of posting short questions I’m going to restate what you said and you can clarify if I have misunderstood in some way.
First and foremost again, you stated firmly this definition of a Catholic:
Those who accept all the dogmas and doctrines that the Catholic Church teaches are Catholics: period!
I wholeheartedly agree with this. As I said you and I both agree on the aforementioned Confession of Faith. Taking this definition as a starting point, we can add another labeled group to the three you identify in your post, namely, the Modernists. I agree with you that “modernism is the greatest crisis in the history of the Church.” I would identify a Modernist as any Catholic who seeks to overturn any note of doctrine above Sententia Communis and seeks to transform it into something of a different substance. In other words, they do not accept all the dogmas and doctrines but refuse some or all, and then promote heresies or errors against the faith, to their own eternal peril and that of others.
Rightly understood, I would identify the Modernists as the primary “enemies of Holy Church” within the Church itself. Catholics (including bishops) have become Modernists and are promoting Modernism—the synthesis of all heresies—within the Catholic Church. This essentially sums up the crisis in the Catholic Church. Would you agree with this summation?
Coming to your general point in the post, I respect and agree with your effort to distinguish between “Catholic” (in the broad sense defined above) and “traditionalist” as opposed to “radical reactionary.” It would seem that what distinguishes the latter group is first a lack of charity for their brethren and piety for the hierarchy (“continually, vociferously, and vitriolically…bashes and trashes popes, Vatican II, the New Mass, and ecumenism”).
If I understand you correctly, I agree, but with qualifications (which I will return to below). From my view as I have stated elsewhere, traditionalists do suffer from these vices (turning them into the radical reactionaries) and it is on full display on the internet. One of the most prominent traditionalist priests, Fr. Chad Ripperger, often condemns this lack of virtue as harmful to souls and undermining the cause of Tradition.
The second characteristic that you identify is a disordered reliance on private judgment. You compare this to the type of thing that passes for authority among Protestants. You provide a quote from St. John Henry Newman describing the Ecclesia Discens as sharply distinguished from the Ecclesia Docens.
There was no room [in the early Church] for private tastes and fancies, no room for private judgment. . . . In the Apostles’ days the peculiarity of faith was submission to a living authority; this is what made it so distinctive; this is what made it an act of submission at all; this is what destroyed private judgment in matters of religion. If you will not look out for a living authority, and will bargain for private judgment, then say at once that you have not Apostolic faith.
Again, I certainly agree with the basic distinction. Taking the first characteristic with the second, it seems that you do allow for a degree of respectful critique for the “big four” (popes, Vatican II, the New Mass, and ecumenism) which presupposes some degree of private judgment. You state that traditionalists accept the validity of the big four but with certain reservations. For my part, I do not identify as a traditionalist as I see the movement having certain issues, but I do generally agree with their critique of the big four.
The question then becomes, to what degree are reservations or critiques of the big four permissible to remain Catholic, and at what point do they become radical reactionary? Taking Newman again as a common authority here, he wrote concerning the Arian crisis that the Church experienced a “temporary suspense of the functions of the teaching church.” Despite the indefectibility of the Church, Newman observed that during this crisis the Magisterium was in some way obscured as the majority of bishops (and arguably even the pope) failed to fulfill their duty as the Ecclesia Docens. As a result the Ecclesia Discens was forced to defend the faith and rebuke the bishops in order that the crisis could be overcome.
Against the rabid impiety of the radical reactionaries, a rebuke of a superior by an inferior can only be undertaken as an act of charity in the manner and circumstances outlined by St. Thomas:
It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Galatians 2:11, “Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.” (II-II q33 a4).
St. Thomas stresses that piety must be observed for superiors, and thus normally a private rebuke is preferred. But in a state of emergency (“if the faith were endangered”) even a public rebuke is necessary because of the “imminent danger of scandal concerning the faith.” Elsewhere Thomas defines scandal as the words or actions which are the occasion of your brother’s spiritual ruin (II-II q43 a1). Thus we may define such a state of emergency as when a Catholic (particularly a cleric) is doing or saying things which become the cause of other Catholics believing heresies in faith or morals, to their own spiritual ruin. In such a case a Catholic “ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly” as an act of charity.
In this case the possibility for scandal regarding piety—by a subject rebuking a prelate—is subordinated to a greater scandal regarding the faith. In other words, even though a subject ought not rebuke a prelate in order to avoid leading others into impiety and irreverence for clerics, it is more necessary that the faith be preserved, and so the risk of the lesser scandal is necessary in this case. We might draw an analogy to the Church’s Just War Theory, wherein there is great risk for individual soldiers committing mortal sin, but the overall cause is just because it seeks to avoid a greater evil.
From my view, Newman’s “temporary suspense of the functions of the teaching church” is precisely the case of Thomas’ “imminent danger of scandal concerning the faith.”
So my questions for you are the following:
Do you agree with St. Thomas that a subject ought to rebuke his prelate publicly in a case of imminent scandal to the faith?
Do you agree with St. Newman that in the Arian crisis the Ecclesia Docens was temporarily suspended, and thus this is possible without the Church defecting?
Do you agree that the “suspension of the Ecclesia Docens” is the “imminent danger of scandal concerning the faith,” thus necessitating extraordinary action on the part of the Ecclesia Discens?
At its best, the traditionalist movement asserts that such a state of emergency exists. The Magisterium is in some way in suspense regarding the Modernist crisis, necessitating a public rebuke from the laity in order that, like the Arian crisis, the bishops and the pope may eventually set the Church back on track. Then the laity can get back to their lives as Ecclesia Discens and the bishops as Ecclesia Docens. But before we discuss these concrete assertions I think it best that we see if we agree on the three questions above in the abstract.
In Jesus and Mary,