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The Origin and Correct Evaluation of the Novel Tendency

Having been at pains to identify a novel tendency in the Magisterium which has been manifest in that system of thought which we have called Magisterial Personalism, we proceed to examine its origin and ask how we should correctly evaluate it.

1. The Origin of the Novel Tendency

Now, the very raison d’etre of the Magisterium is to teach the Catholic Faith and to condemn heresy. This it did in the Syllabus of Bl.
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Pius IX (1864) when it condemned the principal errors of our age outside the Church (Praecipuos Nostrae Aetatis Errores); this it did in Lamentabili of St. Pius X (1907) when it condemned the modernist doctrines (Errores Modernistarum) which had crept into the Church by way of unofficial teachings of certain of its members; but now these same errors have crept into the Magisterium itself56, and into the teaching of a not inconsiderable sector of the hierarchy and the clergy as well, casting a veil of darkness over all things. 57

(57) The origins of these novel doctrines is to be traced, then, to an intellectual movement of the nineteenth century (which is an expression of the spirit of the World), and not merely to the Second Vatican Council, or to the postconciliar “spirit”.

How did this happen? Fr. Wiltgen S.V.D. in The Rhine Flows into the Tiber (Paris, 1975), and Romano Amerio in Iota Unum relate how the whole of the preparatory work of the Second Vatican Council, which was of a traditional tenor, was eliminated “so that of the twenty original schemas, only the one on the liturgy remained. The general spirit of the texts was changed…”(s.43 of the latter work). Both authors show that these changes were wrought by a working alliance of French, German, and Canadian bishops of a modernist persuasion (s.43). If formal heresy was avoided, Catholic doctrine was expressed with ambiguity, an ambiguity, to be precise, which favours heresy. In this connection Romano Amerio writes (s.50 op.cit.): “These inexact formulations were deliberately introduced so that post-conciliar hermeneutics could gloss or re-inforce whichever ideas it liked. Nous l’exprimons d’une facon diplomatique, mais après le Concile nous tirerons les conclusions implicites”.58

(58)“We will express it in a diplomatic way, but after the Council we will draw out the implicit conclusions.” Statement by Fr. Schillebeeckx in the Dutch magazine De Bazuin, No.16, 1965, quoted in Itinéraires No.155, 1971, p.40.

2. The Correct Evaluation of the Novel Tendency

We may distinguish three ways of evaluating the novel tendency: we may give a novel doctrine priority over the traditional doctrine; we may reconcile the two (declaring the opposition to be merely apparent); or we may give the traditional doctrine priority over the novel doctrine.

The first position, seemingly adopted without reflection by most members of the Church today, is in fact untenable in regard to Divine Tradition, since Truth, whether natural or supernatural, is by its very nature unchanging and unchangeable; it is untenable in regard to Ecclesial Tradition since the presumption is in favour of Tradition rather than modernity, since Tradition constitutes established Catholic doctrine.

This first position, which we may describe with Fr. Chad Ripperger, as ‘Magisterialism’ holds that “whatever the current Magisterium says is always what is ‘orthodox’’’ and maintains that “because it is present (Hegelianism), because it comes from us (immanentism) [the newer] is necessarily better.

The second position, which we can describe as ‘irenism’ holds that the conflict is only ever apparent and must be understood (and accepted) “in the light of Tradition”. This position has three limitations:

1) It is unrealistic, because it ignores the dishonesty of the modernizing lobby, accepting their texts without criticism, as though written under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit60.

2) It is not necessarily always tenable, for there is no reason in theology why there should not be a real contradiction between Traditional and recent teachings of the Magisterium, the conditions for infallibility not applying to all declarations of the Magisterium. In such a case the light of Tradition would show the recent teaching to be incompatible with Tradition and therefore unacceptable from this perspective.

3) When it is tenable, it is one-sided, because it only understands a given ambiguous statement in a Catholic sense, whereas to understand an ambiguous statement, one must clearly understand it in both of its senses, which means in the present context both its Catholic and its non-Catholic sense. An example is the ambiguous phase “the Sister Churches” as in the encyclical Ut Unum Sint (1995). To understand this phrase we must understand it both in its Catholic and its non-Catholic sense. In its Catholic sense it means the particular churches, Catholic or non-Catholic, by their sublime or oracular mode of expression. And obscured, as it were, only by the excess of divine light, or which have a valid episcopate and Eucharist, to which the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Universal Church is not the Sister but the Mother (61Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, June 30th. 2000.); in its non-Catholic sense it can be taken to mean that the Catholic Church is on an equal footing with the “Orthodox Church(es)” and the “Protestant Church(es)” as condemned by Bl. Pius IX in Quanto Conficiamur Moerore (1863), and the Syllabus Errorum (1864) s.18 under the name of Latitudinarism.

To understand an ambiguous statement we cannot then ignore one of its senses. This is particularly so if this sense is its prima facie sense.

But there is another reason why we cannot ignore the non-Catholic sense of a given phrase or statement of this type, and that is that it constitutes, together with the prima facie non-Catholic sense of many other declarations of the Magisterium, a body of doctrines which the Church has condemned as heretical under the name of Modernism.

The third position, which we may describe as ‘Traditionalism’(62Cf.
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Note on the Expression Sister Churches from the

We note that the terms ‘traditionalism’ and ‘traditionalist’ are not here used in a pejorative sense, nor used to refer to a position which may be placed on the same level as modernism, seeks to evaluate the modern doctrine (in its one, or in its various, sense(s)) in the light of Tradition: to accept what is compatible with Tradition63, and reject what is incompatible with it.

This is at any rate the task of the traditionalist theologian or catechist. As for the traditionalist member of the faithful, that is to say the Catholic tout court, his task is not particularly to determine the Catholic, or non-Catholic sense of any given statement. Rather, in virtue of the fact that Traditional doctrine is clear and that the novel doctrine is typically unclear, his task, in order to know what the Church teaches on any of such themes, and to live accordingly64 (where there is a moral dimension), is to refer directly to Tradition and to leave the novel doctrine aside65.

Before proceeding further, however, let us explain what we mean here by ‘Tradition’ and ‘Traditionalism’. By ‘Tradition’ we mean everything that is ‘handed on’ (tradere) to subsequent generations by the Church: that is the Holy Scriptures, as well as the unwritten patrimony of the Church (“Tradition” in the restricted sense). This unwritten patrimony comprises Divine (or intrinsic) Tradition (which together with the Scriptures constitutes Revelation, or the Depositum Fidei), and Ecclesial (or extrinsic) Tradition (which includes non-infallible teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium and the Church’s disciplinary code as set out in Canon Law).

63 Second Vatican Council

64 Ambiguity and equivocation in matters of the Faith not only As for example the dogmatic definitions re-iterated in the confuse the mind but also make it more difficult to lead a good life. They are a danger to souls, acting insidiously in the manner of a slow poison.

65 Council. This principle applies to the whole of the Second Vatican

A Traditionalist takes Tradition as the canon of orthodoxy for Catholic teaching66. A Traditionalist theologian who treats modern doctrine which either in its one sense (as in the case of natural birth control) or in one of its senses (as in the non-Catholic sense of “Sister Churches”) contradicts Ecclesial or Divine Tradition, must clearly reject it.

The motivation for Traditionalism is in the first case fidelity to the Truth, and in the second case fidelity to the Mens Ecclesiae formed by the wisdom and labour of the Church and the Saints over a period of two thousand years (see the article by Fr. Ripperger).

The motivation for Traditionalism is in fact nothing less than Catholic, and the Traditionalist is no more and no less than the Catholic: in the first case because Divine Tradition is one of the two sources of Catholic Truth (the other being the Sacred Scriptures); in the second case because the term “Catholic” derives from the Greek term for “entire”, which may reasonably be understood to encompass not only Divine, but also Ecclesial Tradition.

Someone might object that we should never call into question anything taught by the Magisterium or by the Pope: we should rather respect each of these declarations and assent to it “with a ready and respectful allegiance of the mind”. In reply, we should indeed respect them, which we do by evaluating them in the light of Tradition, in the light of established Catholic doctrine, and by accepting them in that light if it is possible. Yet the assent that we are required to give is an assent overriding any contrary personal opinions that we may have; it is not an assent overriding other declarations of the Magisterium, that is to say in the present context all other relevant declarations of the Magisterium in the course of Church history: namely Tradition itself.

Let us return to the example of “Sister Churches”. The Traditionalist theologian understands it in its two senses: its Catholic and its non-Catholic sense; he accepts its Catholic sense and rejects its non-Catholic sense. Indeed as a Catholic theologian, or Catechist, he has a duty to reject, or rather condemn, non-Catholic, or indeed heretical, doctrine because it is deleterious to the Faith and the faithful.67